Archive Article: 1997/11/08 - Farmers Weekly

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

We look back at some of the

significant moments in sprayer and spreader technology of 1997, and feature

a selection of the years new products.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

Time is of the essence when spraying. A Cambridgeshire business has chosen a new generation sprayer to boost its spray capacity.

TO say spraying the 570ha (1,400 acres) cropped by a Cambridgeshire farming company was complex would be an understatement.

Russell Burgess Ltd, based at Yaxley, near Peterborough, owns four main areas of land, each with its own rotation, all within a five mile radius of its base.

Each year additional acres are rented from local farmers – depending on what is available and if the condition and rotation fits the requirements.

This year wheat, barley and peas accounted for half the 570ha, with the rest taken up by 80ha (200 acres) sugar beet, 93ha (230 acres) potatoes, 80ha (198 acres) onions, 100ha (250 acres) carrots and 12ha (30 acres) of parsnips. As usual, the crops were spread in a patchwork across the various parcels of land.

A conventional hydraulic sprayer used in such a diversified business would spend as much time washing out, refilling and travelling as was spent actually spraying in the field.

This changed dramatically this year with the arrival of a direct injection sprayer from Knight Farm Machinery.

According to Jason Burgess, the new machine from the Lincolnshire manufacturer can spend 50% more time spraying than before, and up to 120ha (300 acres) can be covered in a day – an impossible figure with the previous machine.

Not that the company was using a low-tech spraying system before – quite the contrary.

Nine years ago, recognising the potential of air-assisted spraying for reducing water volumes, one of the first twin-fluid nozzle sprayers in the UK joined the machinery fleet.

That was replaced by an air-sleeve machine – also from Knight Farm Machinery. The machines were self-propelled models and in both cases were backed up by a trailed sprayer at the busiest times.

The main attraction of both air-assisted systems was the low water volumes used, enabling a bigger area to be sprayed with each tank of chemicals compared with a conventional system.

But travelling and washing out still took up a large proportion of total time.

"It was common for the sprayer to fill up in the morning, go round all the sites spraying one crop and then return to wash out, fill up again and follow exactly the same route in the afternoon to spray something else," explains Mr Burgess.

"Each round trip could be 30 miles, plus there was the time spent washing out and filling up again. It was obviously not very efficient, and at busy times it was particularly frustrating."

A system which allows a variety of chemicals to be carried together on the sprayer, enabling all the crops at one site to be treated in a single visit, seemed the way forward.

The main difference between the new sprayer and most others is that the main tank is only ever used for carrying clean water.

Chemicals are carried in a series of small containers – one of 10 litres, three 25 litres and one 100 litres – and are mixed with the water on the way to the nozzles.

Each container is linked to an individual peristaltic pump suitable for transferring very precise quantities of liquid. A sixth container – a hopper for dry flowable powders – is on order.

Knight Farm Machinery fitted the US-developed Mid-Tech system for direct injection. The combination of containers and pumps can be altered to suit an individual farms spraying requirement.

At Russell Burgess the 10 litres container is typically used for applying low dose herbicides such as Totril (ioxynil) or Fortrol (cyanazine) on onions and sugar beet, while propachlor (Ramrod) would go in the 100 litres container.

Whatever set-up is decided upon, operators can spray fungicides, herbicides and trace elements singly or in combination in almost any ratio in a single trip without washing out.

The only contaminated material results from rinsing the chemical drums. Chemicals in self-sealing, returnable beer keg-type containers, will put an end to even this small amount of rinsing, hopes Mr Burgess.

At the start of a typical day the sprayer operators are given a spraying chart stating what chemicals are to be applied to which crops.

The containers on the sprayer are filled accordingly, and spare containers are loaded on the 17,000 litres bowser which will accompany the sprayer all day.

The two men – both trained sprayer operators – set off and share the spraying between them before returning at the end of the day.

The main tank and the chemical containers are refilled or changed as necessary during the day. A pump mounted on the front of the sprayer has cut refilling time down to just three minutes, so spraying can be virtually continuous. Previous machines took "a good hour" to wash out and refill.

Mr Burgess believes the new sprayer spends 50 % more time spraying than the previous machine, allowing up to 120ha to be covered at the busiest times.

As a result, the trailed sprayer is no longer needed for back-up and there has been a worthwhile saving in labour.

At the end of a spraying session the chemical lines are flushed out in a single operation using water from the 2,700 litres main tank. Only a few litres are needed, and they are returned to one of the chemical containers for disposal.

Chemical is applied by the Knight AirJet twin-fluid-nozzle system, mostly at 100 litres/hectare. The chemical application rate is controlled by a Knight DeltaSpray 3.

This system senses changes in ground speed and adjusts water or liquid pressure accordingly. All the operator has to do is choose the application rate – a task which can be done on the move.

As a major supplier of fresh vegetables to Waitrose, Sainsburys and Iceland, safe chemical use is a high priority for Mr Burgess. The substantial reduction in rinsings for disposal and improved handling procedures for operators are both welcome.

The direct injection system could also become part of a satellite-based precision farming regime. Maps are being prepared to record specific pest problems, and the latest combine has a yield data collection facility.

Patch spraying on cereals is a feasible operation in the near future, but less likely on the other crops.

The sprayer vehicle is a 125hp hydrostatic Challenger with four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering. Although the land is flat, some of it is very soft black fen, requiring quite a bit of power to drive through.

On one or two occasions when the sprayer has got stuck, emptying the main tank has done the trick. No problem there – it only has clean water in it!

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

THE last serious aphid attack on arable crops came in the spring of 1995. The pest arrived early and warm weather encouraged a rapid build-up. Natural aphid predators couldnt cope alone, so most crops were sprayed with an aphicide.

Since then, colder winters and higher numbers of natural enemies have kept aphid levels low. But it takes only two weeks of favourable weather to cause an epidemic, and this season has begun milder than usual, giving autumn populations of the pest a good start.

If natural predators also had a good start, particularly in the spring, they could reduce the need for aphicides as is the case in glasshouses. That is the thinking behind a LINK-funded project at IACR-Rothamsted, due to finish this autumn. It is investigating ways to manipulate predatory parasitic wasp populations to increase their usefulness in the biological control of aphids.

Offering them suitable habitats near the crop and using laboratory-produced aphid sex pheromones to draw them in has proved successful in increasing aphid mortality in pot trials. But further studies are needed to ascertain which habitats are best, and whether attracting parasitic wasps to the crop works in practice.

Nevertheless it opens up the possibilities of using an integrated, push-pull approach to controlling aphids, using pheromones in conjunction with aphid repellents and antifeedants on the crop.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

Simon Fisher is British Sugars technical services manager with responsibility for agricultural information transfer. This includes the transfer of results from SBREF research, which he handles along with Mike May of IACR-Brooms Barn.

Mr Fisher comments: "Successful beet growers tend to be those who tap into the sources of information available and select the techniques most appropriate to their situation. An attitude of continuous improvement, like that demonstrated here, can really make a difference.

"The yield responses to irrigation recorded by this grower – about 5t/ha 25mm on his lightest fields – are high but not unique. In trial situations we see responses as high as 7.5t/ha 25mm.

"Mr Burtt seems to stick to the basic rules of sugar beet irrigation – not too much applied in any one pass, and not too much ahead of rainfall.

"There is no late irrigating here but, for example, in East Anglia this year others have been watering to ease early harvesting. Harvester losses of up to 8.5t/ha have been limited to just 2t/ha.

"The second year of the BS quality harvesting programme has again demonstrated the difference a harvester thats well set up and driven by a conscientious operator can make. Those in the top 20% band recovered an extra 3.87t/ha over those in the bottom 20% – thats the equivalent of £116/ha at a contract price of £30/t."

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

SAVINGS on water and energy underpinned new developments at this years irrigation event. First, theres the claim of more robustness and reliability with new Monsoon hosereeler. It combines UK and German engineering from Oakleys irrigation and Beinlich respectively.

Beinlichs trump card, reckons Oakleys general manager Dick Hewitt, is its by-pass turbine, suitable for slurry and dirty water as well as clean water applications. The turbine and gearbox use water flow to regulate reel-in speed and application rates. Connection and delivery pipes of the same diameter are said to improve efficiency.

Variable speeds in the range 10 to160m/hr are controlled by electronic switchgear, and all the key components are grouped together on the front of the machine.

The Monsoon complements the Bauer range, which Oakleys distributes in the west of the country, claims Mr Hewitt.

"The three-model range takes over where Bauer leaves off on big machines, with four diameters of hose up to 140mm, and hose lengths up to 640m for a 125mm diameter hose."

Single or twin axles can be specified except on the largest model, where twin axles are standard. An axle height of 500mm gives good clearance over crops or rough ground.

Standard equipment includes a two-way water inlet, PTO wind-in and a hydraulic gun cart lift. Operational safety is provided by high and low pressure plus manual flow shut-offs and a reel brake.

Suitable for use with any standard raingun or increasingly popular booms, prices for the Monsoon start from £16,384. Oakleys is also marketing Beinlich booms, in construction widths from 28 to 72m.

As for energy, savings of 5 to 25% on pump electricity bills are offered with Unicos inverter drive and electronic control system, according to the Farm Energy Centre (FEC).

Tests were carried out over four months this season on an irrigation system with two 55kW pumps, one fitted with an inverter drive to give variable pump speed, the other conventionally fixed speed. The electronic control system used either the variable speed pump alone or both pumps together to give the required water flow without the need for mechanical pressure regulators which, says the FEC, sap energy.

According to FEC engineer Andrew Kneeshaws calculations, this system uses 8% less electricity than one with two fixed speed pumps and mechanical pressure control. In some installations, savings up to 25% are possible, he says.

"Inverter drives can almost eliminate the sudden demand for high power thats normally needed when pumps are first switched on. So, for new installations, a smaller, and therefore cheaper, electricity supply can be specified," says Mr Kneeshaw. Savings here should go a long way to offset the estimated £8,000 to £12,000 the system typically adds to installation costs for a 100hp pump.

"Retrofits to established operations will also help to get the most out of the electricity supply without overloading the transformer," he adds.

Additional features include a remote control mechanism so pumps can be turned on and off from the field, and an automatic cut out in the event of a pipe burst or blockage.

The Unico system tested by FEC is distributed by Gwent-based Powerflow Services.

Solutech, one of the largest suppliers of agricultural sensors in the UK, is introducing another two natty devices to its range of irrigation scheduling aids.

The Watermatic soil moisture sensors are a derivation of the tensiometer principle. However, they are completely automatic, each pre-set to a crop specific soil moisture tension. So adjustment is not needed during set up or operation.

The ceramic sensor blocks are buried at rooting depth and connected to the controller. By setting the Watermatic to trigger irrigation when it senses soil moisture tension dropping below the threshold for the crop, it can by-pass the timer, reducing the risk of overwatering.

However, points out Solutechs Justin Smith, it wont take full control unless you want it to. Instead it can be set to activate an alarm at the critical moment.

The Aquaprobe is a second variation on the tensiometer theme, looking more like the conventional article but in miniature. Its advantages over standard tensiometers are that it records tensions up to 10 bar, compared to just 1 bar, and that its a sealed unit with no need for refilling.

Its also cheap, says Mr Smith, costing from £20. Connecting it to a transducer for data-logging purposes is also relatively cheap, he claims.

Most appropriate for glasshouse, turf and horticultural applications, Aquaprobes will be available in 1998.

For a splash of new product lines, news and irrigation advice, Tia Rund dips into the

Water for Farming 97 event at Peterborough.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

NEW nematode species could become a serious threat to UK field and glasshouse crops.

The two species which currently affect potato crops in this country came originally from South America, and have since managed to invade most of Europe. Although the dominant species in the UK is Globodera pallida, Professor Ken Evans, of IACR-Rothamsted, has pinpointed new nematodes which could arrive from abroad to affect crops here – not just in potatoes.

Top of his list is the false root knot nematode (Narcobbus aberrans) which affects sugar beet in North America; beans, tomatoes and chillies in Mexico; and potatoes in South America. It has been found once in the UK, on tomatoes being grown in a glasshouse.

"The only positive feature about it is that it prefers drier soils, so it may find northern Europe a bit too wet for its liking," adds Prof Evans.

A root lesion nematode, Pratilencus bolivia, affects alstroemeriainin many UK nurseries but will also attack field crops by invading roots, causing severe plant stunting and lesions.

The Colombian root knot nematode (Meloidogyne chitwoodi) comes originally from north western America but is now found in the Netherlands, where it causes a lot of damage to potatoes.

"Although most of the Meloidogyne species survive in tropical regions, this particular nematode is quite happy in temperate conditions. It hasnt been reported in the UK yet, but experience in the Netherlands shows how it could become a problem here."

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

Lessons on biotech blunder

ITS rather a case of gamekeeper turned poacher. Monsanto, key player in plant biotechnology, has taken on a new public affairs guru – Anne Foster – straight from the Scottish Consumer Council.

It appears to be the first positive step that the US-company has taken regarding biotechnology. Force-feeding the European market with genetically-engineered maize was an arrogant disregard for European concerns. As a result Monsanto has done an enormous disservice to the acceptance of biotechnology by consumers, and its smooth adoption by farmers and growers.

Lets hope that Ms Foster can put them straight. She faces an uphill struggle. In complete contrast, Monsantos competitor Du Pont is adopting a softly, softly approach, and overturning Monsantos contention that harvested crops of biotech origin cant be separated out from conventional produce.

Indeed, Du Pont is already setting up the arrangements with major processors and commodity traders which will ensure separate channels for its genetically-engineered crops when they reach the market after 2000.

Growers may not take to the idea of their farms as "factory interfaces" – as they are termed in Du Pont-speak. But if this is what it takes to set up a separate supply chain, then so be it. It is increasingly clear that closer co-operation between all strands of the food production chain are essential to both a healthy industry and one that can convince consumers of its responsibility in matters of new technology.

Hopefully, lessons have been learnt from the controversies of the past year. Now, the major investors in biotechnology should be working together to get the correct message across to the public at large.

Mama mia!

THIS years bad harvest has a lot to answer for. The Italians are throwing up their hands in horror at the poor quality grain being shipped over from the UK.

Until now, Italian millers had been buying about 400,000 to 600,000t of British wheat annually.

Part of the problem is that soft wheats such as Riband and Consort – which have the milling profile the Italians prefer – have been kept back for domestic biscuit premium markets. This raises the proportion of hard feed varieties in bulk export shipments, so reducing the appeal for foreign millers.

Some might say that if Italian millers, or other foreign buyers, want soft milling grain then they should pay for it – and not expect to get something for nothing within British wheat exports.

British Cereal Exports takes a different view. It wants UK growers to supply what the customer wants, and produce a higher proportion of Group 2 and 3 varieties.

Its argument is that this will enhance our export prospects, by attracting a larger number of potential customers. Because British grain does not have the inherent quality of the French or German crop, then we need to tempt buyers with added value – which in this case means some milling quality at a feed wheat price.

Sounds sensible – but perhaps a little simplistic. Even if all the UK wheat were to be of such quality varieties, it only needs one bad harvest to knock the stuffing out of export hopes. This year UK exports will depend on price – our pretensions to quality wont get a look in.

It will be a testing time. If grain prices fall sharply as a direct result of poor export demand, then the arguments look stronger for changing our varietal mix. But would this really support our domestic wheat prices – or are we intent on giving the Continentals something for nothing?

Dont lose your WRAG!

IT isnt what youd call a catchy title – Revised Guidelines for Preventing and Managing Herbicide-Resistant Grass-Weeds. Nor could the cover design exactly be described as arresting.

Such a serious subject deserves a certain level of gravitas. But how can the Weed Resistance Action Group which produced the new guidelines persuade growers to really sit up and take notice?

Only 3.7% of farms with a black-grass problem have had resistance detected. But then, less than 10% have had samples tested. Some might suggest that certain growers have difficulty admitting that the threat of herbicide resistance exists. So what will it take to tempt them to read about, let alone adopt, avoidance tactics?

After all, quite a few of the cultural control methods suggested might conflict with pest and disease control or with efforts to reduce nitrate leaching.

But a lot of the measures dont carry a big cost element, points out editor Stephen Moss. Delayed drilling, for instance, doesnt have to mean waiting until November. You have to drill one field last, so why not make that the one with the biggest problem?

No ones suggesting all the ideas can be accommodated on one farm. But they should try to hit weeds from as many angles as possible – the guidelines set out the options.

In pure financial terms, the value of these options is changing. Growers no longer have the luxury of being able to buy themselves out of trouble by spending more on herbicide inputs to overcome problems of reduced herbicide activity. Low cereal prices mean they simply wont have the money, says Dr Moss.

In the case of Italian rye-grass where herbicide options, especially in cereals, are very limited, all the money in the world wont help you. Cultural control measures are the only counter against potential herbicide resistance.

Imagine if that were also the case for black-grass and wild-oats.

The guidelines are billed as an action plan for grass-weeds. Lets trust that it doesnt take the threat of a doomsday before action takes place.

Grannys £

SWEET old thing she may be, but do you really want your granny to decide the fate of sterling?

Its not such a daft statement. Many pundits in the arable industry shudder when they consider the impact a public referendum on European monetary union (EMU) could have on their businesses. They argue if ever there was a case for sidestepping democracy, such a weighty issue is quite definitely not one to be left to the people.

Too many of the nation at large may still harbour affection for the dear old £ and the sovereignty of Parliament. The unfortunate reality is that to retain any semblance of a major trading nation, Britain has to join the club that will have its joint currency in euros by 2002.

Staying outside the EMU will expose UK agriculture, and other industries, to the vagaries of the world currency market and its speculators.

Sorry, Grandma!

Globetrotting

EVER wondered what such luminaries as Tony Pexton, Oliver Walston and Anthony Rosen have in common – besides an ability to attract the headlines? Armed with a dog-eared passport, a battered suitcase and intense curiosity about foreign farming, all three have ventured abroad courtesy of a Nuffield travel scholarship.

But the number of applications to the Nuffield Trust are declining. It may be due to increasing pressures of work and the difficulty of taking a few months off – or that there are fewer young people employed in agriculture than ever before. Or perhaps its just that the industry has forgotten just what a Nuffield scholarship can offer.

Why not have a try? Anyone involved with agriculture, who is under forty, can benefit. The closing date for the 1998 intake is 15 Jan. If youre interested, contact the director, NFST, East Holme Farm, Maresfield, Uckfield, E Sussex, or phone 01825 762928 (fax 768820).

Flax is back

in fashion

UNWANTED flax straw is rotting in barns around the country. This is not just a waste of £34m of European taxpayers money in subsidies over the past three years. Its a public relations disaster for farming.

The EU is tightening up the rules, and now insists that flax must be tied into a processing contract before the cash is paid out. But this is only part of the answer.

Before flax can be said to earn its keep both ethically and economically, the crop must have a real market. And up to now the UK has not been able to achieve this.

Some sectors of the industry are doing their best to make fibre flax work, but progress has been slow. More often than not, UK conditions produce more low quality flax straw than the potentially higher value, high quality fibre. Finding a home for the low quality fibres has proved tricky, but merchants are now succeeding in the paper and car industry.

A new initiative aims to take high quality UK grown fibre and use it as a cotton substitute (p20). If the plan succeeds, it will open more lucrative markets for UK flax.

For a crop that has been painted for the general public as one of the worst examples of CAP extravagance, this may prove a turning point. Lets hope it is.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

ITS goodbye to green money on 31 December 1998 and hello to the green £ on 1 January 1999.

European monetary union (EMU) will sweep away the green money system for agricultural payments – but only for those countries which sign up for EMU. They will have equal prices set for their farm products in euros – the new European currency unit which becomes obligatory for EMU members in 2002.

Outside the EMU, countries failing to join the first group of single currency adopters will have their national currencies floating.

Farm prices will rise if the national unit, such as the £ if Britain stays out, depreciates against the euro and will fall if they appreciate while the euro falls, farm policy consultant Brian Gardner told the RASE/FAF conference in Stoneleigh, Warks.

"Non-participating countries will be in a similar situation in the post single currency era as they are at present; their green rates will be adjusted to the value of their national currency as it fluctuates in relation to the euro," he pointed out.

In theory, countries, including Britain, which aspire to joining the second wave of entrants into EMU, will be moving their national currencies close to the level at which they want to enter the system. This should reduce fluctuation and the need for green money changes.

However, he warned that other theories predicted a recession ahead for those countries expected to be first into EMU, producing a weak euro. This could lead to speculation in currencies such as sterling, which were not in EMU.

"There would have to be revaluations of agricultural reference rates against the euro and continuation of the erosion in returns to British farming due to the rising value of sterling against euros."

Velcourt Group chairman Robin Malim called for a clear statement of intent from the Government on when the UK would join the EMU. But he insisted the pound must be at a lower level in the international money exchanges than it currently stands.

And he regretted that Britain would not be in at the outset influencing the way EMU will operate. Currency fluctuations over the last year have hit British farmers hard economically, said Mr Malim, and the NFU forecast for this financial year showed a huge drop in the farming industrys profits by £2.5bn to a little over a total of £750m.

Fixed costs and wages have been forced up and will haunt the industry for several years, although the strength of the pound may bring down some inputs and variable costs, he added.

"I believe the violent movements in currency markets benefit no one but the speculator. But the stability from entering EMU will be an important factor in our businesses," Mr Malim said.

Instead of being inward looking as in the past, an effect of the monetary union could be to make the UK look more at global markets where it could compete thanks to the demand for quality products and its efficient farming structure.

The combinable crops assurance scheme will help the UK keep the initiative in exporting.

Professor David Hughes, of Wye College, said the big multinational agricultural companies and major food buyers, such as the food chains, would move quickly towards adjusting their accounting systems to deal in euros.

However, Lord Kingsdown – former Bank of England governor and farmer Robin Leigh Pemberton – said there would be no compulsion even for the first EMU members to use euros for the first three years of the system.

He hoped the UK banks would allow accounts into which payments could be made in euros but credited in sterling if the customer wished.

Early EMU membership looks slim. David Millar hears about the implications of staying outside the Euro currency club for the next few years.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

ITS a competitive business, making and selling tractors. And buyers win as manufacturers vie for a competitive edge with new and improved models displaying better more well-developed features.

More power, more responsive transmissions, greater reliability, more operator comfort for long days in the driving seat, and more technology to make that time more productive. These are the principle targets that designers set themselves when it comes to producing a replacement range or making significant improvements to existing models.

With the Deutz-Fahr Agrotron II and Landini Legend Top, it has been a case of subtle changes to tackle shortcomings. For others, the changes have been more substantial.

The most significant newcomer this year? The Case Maxxum MX, surely. A pretty much all-new design with its separate chassis construction bringing greater strength to handle big front and rear mounted implements. And a longer wheelbase that gives extra traction, more stability and banishes the previous models hip-hop road manners.

Most improved model? Massey Fergusons MF4200-series must warrant that title. It draws heavily on proven components from the popular 300-series but brings the tractor bang up to date with a comprehensive package of changes that warrant its new designation.

Principal among these are the backbone-strengthened gearbox/transaxle assembly on six-cylinder models to cope with an extra one tonne lift capacity, and the stylish and spacious cab.

Four cylinder versions of the top selling series 40 tractors get the New Holland family look to reflect a smart new cabin interior, increased lift linkage capacity and better performing engines.

With the designated TS-series, there are 80hp, 90hp and 100hp versions with powerstar engines that provide improved power and torque characteristics.

Automatic engaged-disengaged diff locks – the front unit being a proper locking design rather than limited slip – are also part of the package. Revised controls and improved interior mouldings and a generously sized air suspension seat are the principal changes inside the cab.

Renaults Ares range also draws on its predecessors for some key components and assemblies but marries these to more economical engines, topped with a masterly cab design.

The interior style of the Ares, coupled with the practicality of its control layout and first-rate visibility, sets new standards while the refined cab suspension offers the best driver comfort this side of a JCB Fastrac.

Most technologically advanced newcomer? Arguably, the Claas Xerion 2500 with its combination hydraulic/mechanical transmission offering a choice of different driving methods, three cab positions and any number of implement mounting locations.

But will farmers and contractors adopt this latest concept in multi-use power units?

For practical application of advanced technology, the Fendt Favorit 900-series Vario has the advantage of wrapping it up in an otherwise conventional tractor. It also has a simpler hydro-mechanical transmission than either the Claas unit or the forthcoming design from Steyr. No gear changes are needed throughout its 0-50kph speed range.

The Vario transmission is a challenge to understand but provides the smoothest possible speed changes and speed versatility. Used to the full, it promises valuable productivity and economy gains.

Best recycling of old ideas? An uncharitable way, perhaps, to describe John Deeres 8000T and Case-IH Quadtrac rubber tracked tractors, which in common with the Claas-Caterpillar Challenger, exploit modern rubber track technology to give new life to a long established concept.

The John Deere has the acknowledged performance and control features of the wheeled 8000-series models; the Quadtrac offers the mechanical simplicity of a US prairie tractor with rock-steady, smooth riding stability on four separate tracks.

A question mark remains over the true performance differential between tracks and a good set of big tyres. But that will become clearer as more operators get experience of these machines under differing conditions in the field.

Tractor buyers are enjoying a feast of new models. Peter Hill reviews the highlights.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

IN AUTUMN 1995 Adam Haylock asked Banks Agriculture to sample soil on 84ha (210 acres) of his 500ha (1,250 acres) of chalky boulder clay at Copy Farm, Helions Bumpstead.

A Quad Bike fitted with a SOYL-MOBI unit, a global positioning system (GPS) receiver with a correction factor provided by an RDS radio tuned to Focus FM, was driven around each of four fields.

An on-board computer drew a map showing the most representative sampling points for each hectare, and the track to reach them in logical order.

At each one 16 individual samples were dug. These were sent to Hampshire-based soil nutrient mapping specialists SOYL with details of previous cropping, future intentions, and straw disposal plans. From this maps were produced.

They showed levels of phosphate, potash, magnesium, and the pH status and were discussed with Jesse Pattisson from Banks Newmarket office. An action plan to target fertiliser to where needed was drawn up.

They revealed a surprising variation of indices ranging from 0 to 2+. "Productivity could have been compromised without us knowing. I was brought up to believe that so long as we looked after the P the K would look after itself.

"For 12 years we have applied 2cwts/acre of triple superphosphate routinely to provide maintenance plus. But maps show the amount needs to be tailored more precisely, and that some K is required."

They revealed lines of old field boundaries, one area of unusually high fertility was puzzling. The block originally comprised of 10 or 12 fields, one of which was where Mr Haylocks great-great-grandfather threshed corn and spread the chaff. A localised severe black-grass infestation could also be a legacy of the chaff spreading.

Although P and K indices have been increasing in recent years Mr Haylock was not convinced they were sufficiently accurate as soil sampling was too general and did not take into account in-field variations in soil type.

He feels the individual GPS-determined sampling sites provide a more accurate picture of actual fertility.

"We need a better idea of what is needed as we may have been over or under-doing fertiliser on areas of the farm. Margins are getting tighter and it makes economic sense to improve input precision.

"It is also obvious we must adopt a more rational and targeted approach to inputs if we are to meet the needs of modern markets. Soon we will have to justify fertiliser use on malting barley and milling wheat," adds Mr Haylock.

Last autumn P and K targeted to actual soil needs for two years was applied to the mapped block, the rest of the farm received the conventional routine rotational dressing of triple superphosphate.

The block was cropped with wheat, rape and linseed. Wheat averaged 9.75t/ha (3.9t/acre), slightly better than average, but so did the crop given the standard fertiliser treatment.

"I doubt if we managed to save any cash as the total amount applied was about the same, but it was more precisely targeted and some muriate of potash was included. There has been little to see in the crops, but they may have done better than they would have done in my normal system. After five years we will re-test the soil to see what impact there has been on nutrient levels."

The mapping service, which costs £16/ha (£6.50/acre), is of little practical use unless fertiliser rates are matched to soil need. Banks has set up a network of contractors who are equipped with either Kuhn or KRM variable spreader units.

GPS-controlled fertiliser application is catching on as growers seek ways to more precisely match crops needs. Heres how it worked for one Essex grower.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

I like someone who will put themselves on the line and take up a challenge. I like it even better when they back their words with actions, especially those that involve money.

The challenge to my agricultural merchant: help me increase my cereal gross margins by increasing yields and/or quality and lowering variable costs – especially for sprays. In return, I will purchase my fertilisers and sprays from you, regardless of price.

The inescapable, painful fact, that led me to make the challenge, was the drastic fall in farm profitability for 1996/7.

The reality of harvest 1997 is unpleasant. For the first time, income from area payments and set-aside has exceeded arable profit.

Cereal prices are down by 25% on the year, winter barley failed to gain a malting premium (selling, under harvest pressure, for £68/t), sugar beet prices are down by 20%, yet both fixed and variable costs are up.

Should I continue blindly, hoping the pound will weaken, prices will rise and everything will be rosy again for next years harvest? Or should I aim to raise profitability for 1998 by improving the gross margins of the weakest area of cropping – cereal production?

I put my cards on the table with a merchant who has previously supplied some of my inputs. I challenged him to improve my cereal gross margins through better yields and quality, linked to more cost effective use of fertilisers and a reduction in costs – at least 20% off the 1996/97 spray bill.

To my surprise, he accepted. Suddenly, my problem became my merchants problem as well. Overnight, the basis on which I deal with him changed. For years, I have kept costs down by keeping up-to-date with prices, arguing for rebates, checking what I am charged, fighting for every last penny.

Its a boring and unsatisfying exercise. I particularly dislike buying sprays when the dealer cannot tell me how much they will cost as the final price has not been fixed.

Now, however, the headache of what each item costs is not an issue. I talk objectives, how clean I want the field, what type of control is required, what the options are, then discuss the best strategy and which active ingredients to use.

Ultimately it is up to my merchant to select the branded product and decide the price I pay. He has to live up to our agreed target spends of £85/ha wheat and £65/ha for winter barley.

They are not easy to achieve, compared with John Nixs guidelines for 1998 of £105/ha for malting barley and £125/ha for wheat, but they represent a 20% cut on my spray variable costs. And they must be achieved, without compromising yield, quality or levels of weed carry over to the following year.

Fertiliser decisions will be based on 10-year yields, soil tests and target yields. My merchant will decide when I actually purchase the fertiliser – and the price I pay. With his superior knowledge of the market, I expect him to get it right, guaranteeing me a good price and himself a good margin.

Its a funny feeling, admitting I might need a merchants help when, as all discerning farmers know, merchants are just out to look after themselves. I am sure it is equally odd for a merchant to be actively involved in finding the best deal around for a customer, rather than selling to the farmer at the highest possible price.

I am glad I found a merchant prepared to take up the challenge. It will be interesting to see, in a years time, if we can both be pleased with the results.

Faint heart doesnt win Norfolk grower Marie Skinners spray and

fertiliser business.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

HARD times are here. Net farm incomes have fallen by 23% – and theres worse to come, according to the latest calculations by accountants Deloitte Touche.

A survey of the companys farming clients, covering more than 100,000ha (247,000 acres), provides a snapshot of the financial health of arable and dairy businesses for the year ending June 1997.

It makes salutary reading. For the first time in four years, growers in the bottom quarter (judged on net farm income performance) are now making a loss – £11/ha (£4.45/acre).

"Anyone in this position should take action now," insists Vincent Hedley Lewis, partner with Deloitte Touche. "They should ask how many such bad years they can survive."

For his average client, net farm income now works out at about £280/ha (£113/acre), and this is after deductions for finance charges and rent.

In the combinable crop sector, a series of good years has cushioned the blow. But financial pressure will mount, and returns from combinable crops will drop dramatically next year – by 45%, he suggests.

The five-year track record of the different sectors on income is given in the table – together with Mr Hedley Lewis crystal ball figures for next year.

The current combinable crop figures were given a boost by the excellent harvest in 1996, and relatively higher prices at the start of the marketing season.

But this year its been a complete reversal – prices have plummeted and the harvest was poor in most areas. These effects will depress the June 1998 figures. Mr Hedley Lewis predictions are made on the basis of £90/t for feed wheat, £160/t for oilseed rape, and £100/t for pulses, and yields at the average for the past five years.

Matters could be worse still for arable businesses with roots in the rotation (see the costings for a model farm in the panel). He is pencilling in a potential 76% fall in net farm incomes by June 1998, as a result of the continuing low potato prices this marketing year and lower sugar beet returns.

Growers should take a close look at their businesses now, he argues. Spreading overheads through expansion might seem the most obvious solution – but it could be a false move.

Analysis of his clients results shows that the most efficient farms are not necessarily the larger units. Best performances come from businesses ranging from 35ha (86 acres) to 4,000ha (9,880 acres).

"Efficiency comes down to the skills of the individual in charge, not to the size of the operation," says Mr Hedley Lewis.

Costs are significantly less with his front-running clients as compared with the average. But variable costs are not materially different, he points out. This is because efficient growers are not necessarily those who cut back on inputs – they are the ones who are prepared to spend on inputs, but use them more effectively to improve gross margins.

"Sadly, its labour that remains the biggest charge," he comments. The top businesses spend just £62/ha (£25/acre) on labour – the average wage bill is higher at £115/ha (£47/acre).

"Major costs, such as labour and equipment, need to be attacked. And many growers could be unfixing their fixed costs, by hiring equipment, for example."

Crops should be costed in terms of the whole business. "Gross margin performance doesnt show the complete picture. For example, if you switch to an all-wheat rotation because of the higher gross margins, but then need to buy extra combines, it may not be worth while."

Growers must also learn how to manage volatile markets, and use grain groups or options as a means of riding risk, he suggests.

Many producers in the combinable crop sector have become used to a lifestyle which may no longer be justified in terms of the financial returns from the business, says Mr Hedley Lewis. "Psychologically, cutting back on your cost of living is hard," he admits. "But its something that growers should now think hard about."

Hard times may offer opportunities as well as challenges, he concludes. The gap between the top sector and the less efficient is growing – this year the better businesses are making almost £600/ha (£243/acre) more than the worst.

"Traditionally, farming businesses do tend to hang on in there as long as possible – even when making a loss. But how many will survive these bad years? There could well be more openings for efficient producers to expand their operations – without having to pay £160/acre or so for the privilege!"

One in four farm businesses may now be in the red, says an accountant. Gilly Johnson hears how to stay in the black.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

GREEN stripes may look good on a lawn but down a cereal field they represent a financial loss and a potential source of nitrate leaching.

Fortunately, improvement in machine design and a better understanding of fertiliser quality have reduced the potential difficulties in recent years.

"There is no room for complacency," warns Ted Crooks, of fertiliser calibration specialists SCS. With three partners around the country, the group tests about 1,500, mostly spinning disc fertiliser spreaders a year, representing about 10% of the UK total.

"Growers are well aware that uneven fertiliser application can result in reduced yield and lodging but visible signs in the growing crop are only apparent when the coefficient of variation (CV), a measure of accuracy, exceeds 20%," explains Mr Crooks.

In other words, at a CV of 20%, actual fertiliser rates can vary by as much as plus or minus 40% from the mean or desired rate. Put another way, fertiliser rates can vary from 60 to 140% of the desired rate.

Enormous variation in fertiliser rate and yield could occur without growers even noticing. "I dont wish to stand in the way of progress, but growers should aim to get the best out of existing equipment and fertilisers before considering precision farming techniques and variable application rates," recommends Mr Crooks.

When spreader testing using a series of trays across the width of the machine, CVs up to 10% are considered good, 10 to 15% may be acceptable according to circumstances, and 15 to 20% not acceptable by either fertiliser or spreader manufacturers. "On-farm CVs of 10 to 20% are relatively common," claims Mr Crooks.

And switching to pneumatic spreaders may not be the answer. "Many growers have been sold pneumatic spreaders on the basis they will spread poor quality fertilisers accurately, and even in the wind, but in practice that is often not the case," says Mr Crooks.

However, a good quality fertiliser, applied by a well set-up pneumatic spreader may be able to work in windier conditions than the equivalent disc machine, and especially at wide bout spacing.

On the other hand, the spread pattern from a well-set disc machine spreading good quality fertiliser can be just as good as a pneumatic and at considerably higher work rates. It should also be remembered that pneumatic spreaders have many more moving and wearing parts than spinning disc machines.

"Accurate fertiliser spreading starts with the right choice of product," maintains Mr Crooks. Spreader manufacturers test their machines with the most commonly available fertiliser types.

Problems arise with imports, especially ammonium nitrates and ureas, the quality of which can vary from year-to-year and batch-to-batch. And with no compensatory setting information from the manufacturer.

Prills are often too small, or irregular in size, or soft, breaking up on contact with the vanes, or already having turned to dust.

Blends

"Blends too are not without their problems," he warns. "Theres nothing wrong with a good quality blend consisting of equal-sized particles but spreading problems arise when there is a big size variation.

Poor size matching in a blended fertiliser can also lead to an uneven distribution of nutrients. When opening a big bag, for example, growers should make as wide a gash as possible. If the hole is insufficient, smaller particles will congregate in the middle of the hopper while the larger particles roll to the outside. The ratio of nutrients applied could then differ significantly from one end of the field to another.

"Operators may not appreciate the physical properties of differing fertiliser types," continues Mr Crooks.

For example, Hydro Extran is a granular fertiliser and not a prill so machines should be set accordingly. Blends and compounds may behave completely differently although containing the same nutrients. In a blend containing nitrogen, the grower needs to know in what form is the N source.

Assuming fertiliser quality and loading to be satisfactory, on-farm spreader testing starts with the tractor, not the spreader.

A hand-held digital meter is used to test PTO speed. The majority of spinning disc and pneumatic spreaders are designed to run at 540 rpm.

Occasionally, tractors need to be run at 300 to 400 rpm more than the manufacturers recommended setting to obtain 540 rpm at the PTO shaft. Its hardly surprising spreading accuracy falls with engine speed when going uphill.

Moving on to the machine, Mr Crooks warns it is worth checking the spreader has been correctly assembled and inspected, even from new. He occasionally finds the wrong vanes or discs or combinations fitted.

Shutter openings

Shutter openings on double-disc spreaders must be equal to ensure an even spread pattern. On older machines check the apertures for wear or partial blockage.

Not surprisingly the vanes on spinning disc spreaders are frequently the cause of poor distribution and hidden striping. Abrasive fertilisers wear the surface of the vane.

Even slight wear to the vane can have a profound effect on the spread pattern over 20m or more. Dusty material sticking to the vanes in damp conditions again result in high CVs.

Rather more expensive to rectify, worn gearbox bearings allowing the discs to rock must be replaced.

A well-maintained machine goes a long way to ensuring an even spread pattern but operator adjustments in the field may be just as important. Some machines are designed to run at an angle, with adjustment to the top link to vary spreading width.

Others should be level in all directions and at the right height above the crop so its important to readjust the height setting as the crop grows.

Understandably, Mr Crooks recommends that spreaders be independently checked, ideally every season, using at least one tray per metre of spread. Basic cost per spreader is £125 for tray testing two fertiliser types.

Growers should receive a written report, including computer-generated spread patterns, CVs and a diagnosis of any problems.

Dick Palmer outlines the benefits of proper calibration.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

GETTING blight fungicide where it is needed at full canopy has always been a source of anguish for potato growers no matter how favourable the weather.

Trials both in England and Scotland now suggest that stem blight could be more easily targeted by fitting dropleg attachments during the blight spraying season.

The agrochemical manufacturer Cyanamid commissioned research at the Scottish Agricultural College, Morley Research Centre and at Harper Adams Agricultural College after users of its fungicide Invader (dimethomorph) asked for advice on application through air-assisted systems.

Conventional, air-assisted and dropleg systems were compared for spray coverage at differing canopy heights and for subsequent blight infection. Perhaps unsurprisingly, lower canopy and stem coverage was improved by using the dropleg spray system, and it resulted in less infection being found in the potatoes where blight fungicide was applied through droplegs.

"The air-assisted and conventional systems were very good at depositing droplets on top of the canopy," says Antony Goulds, of Cyanamid. "The dropleg put about two-thirds on top and about a third underneath."

The results (fig 1) from Harper Adams and Morley show air assistance placed the most fungicide on potato leaves, with slightly less through conventional application. Lowest penetration to the lower canopy leaves was through the conventional sprayer and the dropleg deposited more active ingredient in the lower canopy.

However, for getting fungicide on to the plant stems, the droplegs were better overall than the two more common alternatives (fig 2). Air-assistance outpaced the droplegs slightly for coverage of the upper stems but the dropleg had the clear advantage in getting active ingredient to the lower part of the stems.

The rate of active ingredient reaching the plant stems was, however, markedly lower than the fungicide successfully applied to leaves.

Nevertheless, at the SAC site at Auchencruive, Ayrshire, this extra deposition on the stem was reflected by a much lower incidence of stem infection at all heights in the dropleg plots sprayed at full plant ground cover.

Application through conventional hydraulic sprayers also had a slight edge on air-assistance for conrolling disease.

With only 75% ground cover, leaf infection was still curtailed most by dropleg application but air-assistance also performed well in aiding control in the top and middle leaves.

There was evidence in the Morley/Harper Adams work that air-assistance is responsible for more spray going on to the ridges rather than the target plants. Conventional spraying was the least wasteful in this respect, but the amount of active ingredient lost in this way was quite low in all cases.

"If stem blight is significant, the dropleg will provide the farmer with an opportunity to hit it at full canopy," Mr Goulds points out.

Plants used in the experiments were not fully assessed for damage which might be caused by the droplegs. With some varieties such as Cara, the risk of damage would be greater although commercial dropleg machines do now have a break-back capability if resistance is met in the canopy.

Its been a bad blight year. Could a few changes to the farm sprayer have helped? David Millar looks at evidence in support of the dropleg.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

EARLY results from new soils research point to a rethink on the best way to apply sulphur to crops.

Sulphur deficiency in crops is an unwelcome but necessary by-product of cleaner heavy industries. Total emissions of sulphur dioxide in the UK have decreased by more than 50% since 1970, and are set to fall further still through the next decade. By 2003, the area of cereals in the UK susceptible to sulphur deficiency is expected to increase by 22%.

None of this will come as much surprise. Its all been well publicised and, despite having to shoulder the cost, growers uptake of sulphur fertilisers has been an exercise in successful communication. Almost too successful, was the suggestion from some quarters when the HGCA quality survey of about 1,200 grain samples taken from last years wheat and barley harvest showed virtually nil deficiency.

But this doesnt mean weve cracked the problem, suggests Steve McGrath, soils expert at IACR-Rothamsted. It just goes to show how little we understand about the sulphur cycle, especially when analysis of this years grain shows deficiency is back on an upward track at 16%.

One explanation for the very low level of sulphur deficiency in 1995/6 was reduced leaching from the cold dry spring of 1996. Theres logic in the theory, reckons Professor McGrath, but very little science.

Not surprisingly for such a modern phenomenon, there are holes in our knowledge and theyre at quite a fundamental level. "We have a broad understanding of the processes involved in the sulphur cycle," he explains. "Theyre similar to nitrogen, except that losses to air are negligible, which makes it a little easier to study.

"We know that sulphate is very mobile, but weve never been able to put numbers against the losses."

New funding

Now new work at IACR-Rothamsted, funded by Stefes Plant Protection and the HGCA, is beginning to do just that. Nicky Riley of the soil science department is 18 months into a three-year project to assess leaching losses from different forms of sulphur fertilisers.

"For the first time weve been able to see how much is leached, how much is taken up by the crop – in this case ryegrass – and how much stays in the soil," she says. "Until now research into sulphur fertiliser characteristics has been confined to small columns of disturbed soil in the laboratory."

This study makes use of lysimeters which mimic field conditions far more closely. So-called soil monoliths – 80cm in diameter and 55cm deep – are carved intact from established pasture, encased and reinstalled adjacent to a covered pit. Here the drainage water is contained ready for collection and analysis.

On sandy loam soil at Woburn in Bedfordshire, three treatments plus a control were compared in two replicates. An elemental sulphur plus bentonite clay mixture (T90), dry flowable elemental sulphur (DFES) and ammonium sulphate (AS) were each applied in September 1996 at a rate equivalent to 50kgS/ha higher than current recommendations.

After a year, the most startling finding is the scale of leaching losses from ammonium sulphate – 70% of this fertiliser ended up in the drainage water, more than double the typical losses of nitrogen from ammonium nitrate. The elemental sulphur fertilisers, on the other hand, were less susceptible to leaching losses, seemingly because of their slow release characteristics.

Some sulphate also leached from the untreated controls, which indicates theres still some contribution from atmospheric deposition. But detailed sulphur balances, which take account of measured deposition and plant uptake, show that the control is losing more sulphur than its gaining from the air.

Elemental sulphur

While the elemental sulphur/bentonite clay mixture, sold as Tiger 90, and the dry flowable elemental sulphur each retained about 30 to 40kgS/ha in the soil, only 10kgS/ha remained from the ammonium sulphate (see fig 1).

The patterns of leaching losses through the season are similar for each treatment, and as expected, says Prof McGrath, closely reflect the amount of rainfall and therefore drainage volume (see fig 2). "Timing wise, losses peak just before crops really take off in the spring.

"For ammonium sulphate users, theres little option but to apply it in March and accept that a large proportion will be lost if it rains, though not as much as from an autumn application.

"Splitting the sulphur application might in theory reduce late winter losses, but there would be problems trying this in practice. Growers are too constrained by the N:S ratios in compound fertilisers."

The next research stage is to take soil cores from within the existing lysimeters to establish the whereabouts of sulphur in the vertical soil profile and the form it takes. "Although we have demonstrated that oxidation of elemental forms of sulphur is slow enough to reduce leaching losses, we also need to be sure that its fast enough to match crop requirements."

The oxidation rate is determined by many factors, especially fertiliser particle size, soil temperature and soil moisture. Another project with the University of Newcastle is quantifying these influences, with the ultimate aim of building a computer model to provide decision support on the use of sulphur fertilisers.

New research shows it is not

what sulphur you apply, but how you apply it that is important.

Tia Rund reports.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997


Type Advantages Disadvantages Replacement Approximate

period cost per tip

Conventional Fits all booms, choice Drift can be a risk 1 season (plastic) £2

flat fan of angles and flow on windy days 4 seasons (ceramic) £3

rates to suit all targets

Hollow cone Useful for knapsack Cannot overlap so 0.5 to 1 season £2

sprayers and in orchards limited use for booms,

fine droplets liable to drift

Twin fluid Fits all booms with Complex to use, initial 4 to 10 seasons £4

eg Airtec/Airjet modifications, flow rate cost higher, need air

flexible, suits all targets, compressor

less drift so increased

number of spray days

& work output potential

Venturi Fits all booms, some Not ideal for very 1 season £3.50

eg Billericay/ drift reduction, better upright or waxy leaves

Bubblejet foliage retention than

other coarse nozzles

Anvil based Fits all booms, suitable for Does not fit all 1 season £3.15

eg Turbo TeeJet low application volumes, wide competitors nozzle

range of application rates bodies

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997


&#8226 never re-use pesticide containers for any purpose except to contain an identical pesticide

&#8226 clean packs thoroughly before disposal by rinsing or as otherwise indicated on the label

&#8226 always puncture or crush empty containers

&#8226 store securely pending disposal

Burial

&#8226 bury containers where there is no risk of groundwater pollution, under at least 0.8m of soil, below the level of any land drains

&#8226 burial site must be recorded and marked

Burning

&#8226 burning is subject to national clean air legislation and local authoritys environmental health department

&#8226 burn in an open space at least 15m from any public highway and where smoke will not drift over houses, roads, livestock or business buildings

&#8226 containers must be open, and placed on a very hot fire a few at a time

&#8226 constant supervision is required

&#8226 extinguish fire before leaving

Other disposal

&#8226 contact the waste disposal department of your local authority for details of reputable specialist disposal contractors

More help

Ask your local MAFF office for a copy of: Pesticides: Code of practice for the safe use of pesticides on farms and holdings. A new edition is expected shortly

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997


A) FORESTRY AUTHORITY GRANTS: Amount

1. Woodland Grant Scheme (WGS) £1,350/ha

– A one-off establishment grant, 70% paid on completion of planting and the remainder 5 years later.

2. Better Land Supplement (BLS) £600/ha

– Has to be "arable" land or "improved" grassland. All paid on completion of planting. Minimum area: 0.25ha, 15m wide.

Minimum stocking rate of 1,100 trees/ha for plantings of under 3ha, at 3m by 3m spacing. Stocking rate rises with larger plantings to 2,250/ha, to maximise timber production potential.

B) MAFF GRANTS:

Farm Woodland Premium Scheme (FWPS) £300/ha

– Recently increased. Paid annually for 15 years. Minimum 1ha, and land has to be within the Woodland Grant Scheme to qualify. If land is counted towards set aside requirement, payment is at prevailing set-aside rate if this is less than £300/ha. To count as set-aside, land must be IACS-registered and the smallest area allowed is 0.3ha, 20m wide.

Anyone interested in planting new woodland is entitled to one free visit from an ADAS woodland consultant. Help is also available with grant applications but at a cost.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

ITS worth understanding your rights when it comes to the details of your abstraction licence.

Negotiation with the Environment Agency (EA) over abstraction licences is not the cat and mouse game that many believe it to be. The Agency is merely trying to fulfil its duty of managing water resources properly.

Thats the view of Richard Buxton, an environmental lawyer, speaking in a seminar at the Water for Farming event in Peterborough. "Im constantly surprised by how very fair the agency is," he added.

Irrigation law has stood the test of time pretty well, given that it mostly dates back to the 1960s and has remained largely unchanged since then. There is currently a review of water resources law within the Department of the Environment, Transport and Regions, but Mr Buxton doesnt expect much to change.

However, despite its constancy, irrigation is an area of the law open to pitfalls, he warned. The first, which has yet to be resolved, is one of definition. "Simply, and rather perversely, irrigation is exempt from licensing requirements – unless its classified as spray irrigation."

Hence the loophole for trickle irrigators. "But the situation is extremely unsatisfactory from a water resource management point of view and its something that wont last for ever," he stressed.

Despite the licence exemption, the EA does have the power to request information about trickle systems. Those who feel constrained by their existing licences are advised to apply for a variation, but this can be quite an involved and time consuming process, often involving complicated and expensive advertising.

The EA may also impose on a variation restrictions that werent there before, so it makes sense to consult them in advance.

A recent policy change now means that, where licences are held but not used, there is no longer the need to invest in an expensive meter – until you come to irrigate.

Mr Buxton describes the legal issue of succession to licences as peculiar. In principle, where your land is covered by an abstraction licence, you are responsible for payments, annual returns and any contraventions committed by a tenant. So you should tie these things up in the tenancy agreement, advised Mr Buxton.

The alternative is for the tenant to apply to take part of the licence, but you might risk not being able to retrieve it unless, again, the tenancy agreement is watertight.

Where a tenant takes over the whole area covered by a licence, then he automatically becomes the licence holder, so consider retaining a small piece of land if you want to keep control.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

Seems as though we live in changing times – "always been the way" I hear you say – but one thing starting to worry me is the weather.

Even I, as a staunch supporter of the "blip in the climate, often happens if you look back in history" principle, am having trouble staving off the fans of the "climates changing due to lack of trees and noxious emissions from American industry, Chinese fridges and French diesel cars" camp.

Our nice unpredictable northern hemisphere climate is not only becoming drier, but more extreme. Prolonged periods of drought, or rain, or cold seem to be more and more accentuated and long.

Oilseed rapes are very variable and can be divided into those planted before the 15mm of rain that fell on 30 August, and those planted after. As I predicted last month, those that were planted into the dust and clods have a good crop and those that didnt dont.

Quite unusually, we have been obliged to target an insecticide at aphids this year; the more common pests being cabbage stem flea beetles and rape winter stem weevils – a particularly dangerous insect. Treating these two pests generally mops up any aphids but this autumns climate has increased populations. The worry, of course, is the spread of virus.

Again, the virus risk is high in the winter barleys this year, so we are very pleased that we used Gaucho-treated seed. Our current workload is intense and not having to worrying about aphids lightens the load. The cost of Gaucho (imidacloprid) is high so, on the consultancy side, I have many clients who dont need to use Gaucho as their systems permit spraying and they can benefit from a substantial reduction in input costs.

Wheat planting is slow due to the dry conditions producing poor seed beds, and to the need for more preparatory work. Wear rates are drastic where we are plough/planting and even in minimal tillage situations, the Lemken Smarags are taking a beating. The Moore/Sulky uni-drill is again proving its worth in being able to plant cheaply behind rape, peas and maize following a spray treatment with glyphosate to take out volunteers.

What are we going to do when we can no longer kill volunteers of Roundup Ready rape with glyphosate?!

Variety choice has been influenced somewhat by the availability of seed. This has created a crisis in some areas. We are informed that the wet and cool June-July weather led to poor quality seed with low germinations and high levels of fusarium. Sure, this was a factor, but the real problem was already in place – lack of area in seed contracts and poor choice of varieties by the seed producers.

The lack of seed contracts is due to low seed premiums being offered to farmers, and compounded by increased sales of certified seed. This is mainly due to hi-tech seed dressings such as Gaucho and Austral Plus (tefluthrin + fludioxonil) which are not authorised for on-farm seed treatment.

For our choice of milling varieties – 70% of our land in La Beauce and 50% in other areas – we are growing Rialto, Altria, Sidéral, Texel, Criterium and Aztec, with smaller areas of Charger, Bourbon, Somme and Soissons (which although still the reference variety for millers is now unable to compete in terms of yield). On the feed wheat side we are sticking with Trémie and Oracle, both very high yielders south of Paris.

Maize harvest is finished and produced some excellent results despite early fears. Not only are yields better than expected at around 12t/ha for irrigated crops, and 9t/ha for non-irrigated ones. Moisture content at harvest was lower than normal; in some cases down to 25% – the norm is 35% so the savings in drying costs are substantial. The price, however, is lower than last year at around 740FF/ton (820FF for the same period in 1996).

Sugar beet lifting is in full swing. The second lift is finished, and the remaining third coming out of the ground between 4 and 10 November. This last lot will have to be stored on-farm for around two weeks but should be collected before the beginning of December.

Yields are looking good with an even root size coupled with reasonable sugar levels (18-19%). We should average 80t/ha (at 16%) on the irrigated land and 55t on the non-irrigated sandy loam.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

Lessons on biotech blunder

ITS rather a case of gamekeeper turned poacher. Monsanto, key player in plant biotechnology, has taken on a new public affairs guru – Anne Foster – straight from the Scottish Consumer Council.

It appears to be the first positive step that the US-company has taken regarding biotechnology. Force-feeding the European market with genetically-engineered maize was an arrogant disregard for European concerns. As a result Monsanto has done an enormous disservice to the acceptance of biotechnology by consumers, and its smooth adoption by farmers and growers.

Lets hope that Ms Foster can put them straight. She faces an uphill struggle. In complete contrast, Monsantos competitor Du Pont is adopting a softly, softly approach, and overturning Monsantos contention that harvested crops of biotech origin cant be separated out from conventional produce.

Indeed, Du Pont is already setting up the arrangements with major processors and commodity traders which will ensure separate channels for its genetically-engineered crops when they reach the market after 2000.

Growers may not take to the idea of their farms as "factory interfaces" – as they are termed in Du Pont-speak. But if this is what it takes to set up a separate supply chain, then so be it. It is increasingly clear that closer co-operation between all strands of the food production chain are essential to both a healthy industry and one that can convince consumers of its responsibility in matters of new technology.

Hopefully, lessons have been learnt from the controversies of the past year. Now, the major investors in biotechnology should be working together to get the correct message across to the public at large.

Mama mia!

THIS years bad harvest has a lot to answer for. The Italians are throwing up their hands in horror at the poor quality grain being shipped over from the UK.

Until now, Italian millers had been buying about 400,000 to 600,000t of British wheat annually.

Part of the problem is that soft wheats such as Riband and Consort – which have the milling profile the Italians prefer – have been kept back for domestic biscuit premium markets. This raises the proportion of hard feed varieties in bulk export shipments, so reducing the appeal for foreign millers.

Some might say that if Italian millers, or other foreign buyers, want soft milling grain then they should pay for it – and not expect to get something for nothing within British wheat exports.

British Cereal Exports takes a different view. It wants UK growers to supply what the customer wants, and produce a higher proportion of Group 2 and 3 varieties.

Its argument is that this will enhance our export prospects, by attracting a larger number of potential customers. Because British grain does not have the inherent quality of the French or German crop, then we need to tempt buyers with added value – which in this case means some milling quality at a feed wheat price.

Sounds sensible – but perhaps a little simplistic. Even if all the UK wheat were to be of such quality varieties, it only needs one bad harvest to knock the stuffing out of export hopes. This year UK exports will depend on price – our pretensions to quality wont get a look in.

It will be a testing time. If grain prices fall sharply as a direct result of poor export demand, then the arguments look stronger for changing our varietal mix. But would this really support our domestic wheat prices – or are we intent on giving the Continentals something for nothing?

Flax is back

in fashion

UNWANTED flax straw is rotting in barns around the country. This is not just a waste of £34m of European taxpayers money in subsidies over the past three years. Its a public relations disaster for farming.

The EU is tightening up the rules, and now insists that flax must be tied into a processing contract before the cash is paid out. But this is only part of the answer.

Before flax can be said to earn its keep both ethically and economically, the crop must have a real market. And up to now the UK has not been able to achieve this.

Some sectors of the industry are doing their best to make fibre flax work, but progress has been slow. More often than not, UK conditions produce more low quality flax straw than the potentially higher value, high quality fibre. Finding a home for the low quality fibres has proved tricky, but merchants are now succeeding in the paper and car industry.

A new initiative aims to take high quality UK grown fibre and use it as a cotton substitute (p20). If the plan succeeds, it will open more lucrative markets for UK flax.

For a crop that has been painted for the general public as one of the worst examples of CAP extravagance, this may prove a turning point. Lets hope it is.

Grannys £

SWEET old thing she may be, but do you really want your granny to decide the fate of sterling?

Its not such a daft statement. Many pundits in the arable industry shudder when they consider the impact a public referendum on European monetary union (EMU) could have on their businesses. They argue if ever there was a case for sidestepping democracy, such a weighty issue is quite definitely not one to be left to the people.

Too many of the nation at large may still harbour affection for the dear old £ and the sovereignty of Parliament. The unfortunate reality is that to retain any semblance of a major trading nation, Britain has to join the club that will have its joint currency in euros by 2002.

Staying outside the EMU will expose UK agriculture, and other industries, to the vagaries of the world currency market and its speculators.

Sorry, Grandma!

Globetrotting

EVER wondered what such luminaries as Tony Pexton, Oliver Walston and Anthony Rosen have in common – besides an ability to attract the headlines? Armed with a dog-eared passport, a battered suitcase and intense curiosity about foreign farming, all three have ventured abroad courtesy of a Nuffield travel scholarship.

But the number of applications to the Nuffield Trust are declining. It may be due to increasing pressures of work and the difficulty of taking a few months off – or that there are fewer young people employed in agriculture than ever before. Or perhaps its just that the industry has forgotten just what a Nuffield scholarship can offer.

Why not have a try? Anyone involved with agriculture, who is under forty, can benefit. The closing date for the 1998 intake is 15 Jan. If youre interested, contact the director, NFST, East Holme Farm, Maresfield, Uckfield, E Sussex, or phone 01825 762928 (fax 768820).

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

New technology is being brought to bear on the £50m annual losses from potato nematodes, and on growers reliance on agrochemicals.

CONTROL of potato cyst nematode (PCN) by conventional chemicals is costing some growers more than £750/ha (£304/acre) but biotechnology may provide more environmentally-friendly solutions.

At IACR-Rothamsted in Hertfordshire, scientists are looking at breeding genetic resistance to PCN into new varieties of potato, and at a soil-dwelling fungus which could be applied to potatoes to attack the pests at a vulnerable stage.

Genetic engineering of PCN resistance has concentrated so far on defeating the rise in numbers of Globodera pallida, which has become the more numerous of the two common PCN species in the UK. The aim has been to use plant-derived genes which interfere with nematode digestion, causing the females to produce fewer eggs.

"Weve been able to introduce a partial resistance into plants," says Dr Paul Burrows, of Rothamsted. "It helps inhibit the build-up of nematode populations, giving the plants a better chance of thriving."

A lectin gene originally from the snowdrop plant is being used. Plants with the gene have 75-80% resistance when compared to control plants, and the gene also has some effect against other migratory soil nematodes.

However, a multi-gene approach is being pursued over the next two years to increase the durability and efficacy of the resistance. "Ideally, we need to find resistance which can be applied to all crops and all nematodes," says Dr Burrows. "But it wont be a complete cure. It will have to be used in conjunction with other control methods."

Consumer reaction to genetic engineering has to be considered. "Pallida-resistant plants could be available in five years time, but no one knows yet whether they will be marketable," Dr Burrows points out.

The decline in cereal cyst nematode has helped progress with biological control of PCN. A soil fungi attacking the female nematodes was identified.

Having created suitable soils artificially and encouraged female PCN numbers to build up, Dr David Crump, research nematologist at Rothamsted, and his team identified the Acremonium species as the most effective against both PCN species. It grows through the female nematode and sporulates, infecting other healthy females.

"It affects healthy females and immature eggs," he explains. "It doesnt have any effect on mature eggs, so its important to hit the right stage."

Getting the fungus into the field is still being investigated but one possible method is to put the inoculum round the tuber before planting.

A combination of differing strains may need to be used to get greater control and persistence.

This PCN control agent does not harm beneficial organisms but Dr Crump says it will have to be used with other control measures.

Hatching prevention, interference with root location and sex attractants are also being investigated at Rothamsted but are a long way from being field-ready. Trap cropping is being used by a few growers and the scientists are also refining its use.

Professor Ken Evans, project leader at Rothamsted, says it will give 80% kill providing timing is correct. "The aim is to get the nematodes to hatch and invade the roots, but not to reach maturity," he explains. "Leaving the crop just a week too long wont reduce populations, and leaving it a further two weeks will actually increase the problem.

"If G pallida is the main problem, the trap crop can be targeted to its slower hatching activity," he continues. "As soon as the white females can be seen emerging on the roots, its time to lift."

Best results have come from a crop planted in August when the soil is warm, and left to grow for 6-7 weeks. The plants are then lifted and composted. In some instances, it may be possible to market the produce.

"Where we planted an early variety in September, we had marketable yields of around 5.5t/ha of new potatoes, ready for the Christmas market," explains Prof Evans.

Work on trap cropping will continue this year, with different varieties, spacings and timings being investigated. Destruction of the crop with herbicides will also be examined. "Its important that root development isnt stopped too soon. And the plants mustnt be too widely spaced, as the nematodes have to colonise the roots for trap cropping to work."

Mapping nematode populations is also being assessed at Rothamsted. "But its not so that growers can match the map with variable rates of nematicide," cautions Prof Evans. "With PCN, its full rate or nothing."

The development of a new immunoassay test will make analysis quicker and cheaper.

"Nematicides cost so much that there are big potential savings to be made from more detailed maps of field distributions," adds Prof Evans. "And when used with our population dynamics model, we can show the effects of treatments on population densities.

"This means that the maps can be used for more than one year, and will allow more informed application of nematicide," he concludes.

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8 November 1997

IN THE south, some wheat crops have emerged patchily. Upon closer inspection, the seeds which didnt produce a plant lie hollow and seedlings are struggling. The damage looks familiar, but there is no sign of slugs or frit flies. What could be responsible?

1SLUGS are active where seedbeds are moist enough for them to move unhindered. In late sown crops, they are hollowing out seeds and grazing the seedlings, leaving them ragged and often unable to recover.

But there is another enemy whose damage appears similar at first glance. The wheat flea beetle first came to our attention last year, and this autumn is taking a few growers by surprise.

Early last month, we found several crops in Hampshire, Berkshire and Dorset with large bare patches in them. When we looked closer, seeds had been hollowed but through a more defined entry hole than slugs produce. There were bronze-coloured adult flea beetles inside the seeds, giving us unequivocal proof that this was the guilty party.

Something had also eaten through leaves before they unfurled, producing a symmetrical pattern of damage. It could have been the larvae which hatch out through the autumn and winter from eggs laid in grass.

If your crops are still at a vulnerable stage, check the damage symptoms carefully to identify the culprit. Dig down the profile for slugs before jumping to conclusions and spreading pellets about. Its all to easy to assume you know what it is, but this pest isnt familiar to most growers, yet.

This may sound like scaremongering, but the damage is bad enough in patches to warrant redrilling. It may even be worth drilling seed treated with gamma-HCH, usually used for wireworm control.

Tod Hunnisett,

Crop Management Services, Hampshire.

2WHEAT flea beetle can cause quite serious problems, particularly after grass leys or where stubble has regrown. I have seen some fields wiped out by this occasional pest.

The adult dies off in mid-autumn, once it has laid eggs and the weather starts to turn against it. But its larvae can damage plants right through until the late spring.

They cause typical deadhearts, much like the symptoms of several other pests appearing at this time. Since their first sighting in the 1970s, their damage has been mistaken for frit fly, wireworm and caterpillar grazing. But unlike frit fly larvae, which destroy just one shoot, wheat flea beetle larvae can eat up to 15 shoots in one winter.

Theres no mistaking the pest itself – its a dirty white grub with a dark head and dark plate at the rear end, typical of flea beetle larvae. Frit fly and wireworm larvae are yellower. But if you arent sure, ask your adviser for a second opinion.

Its only worth treating if you believe there are enough to cause bare patches and necessitate redrilling.

I would try an insecticide approved for leatherjacket control, such as the gamma-HCH products Lindane or Gamma-col. If frit fly or caterpillars are your problem, chlorpyrifos is a better option.

Jon Oakley,

ADAS Bridgets, Hampshire

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8 November 1997

THE Health and Safety Executives inspectors investigated 204 complaints about pesticide use during the 12 month period up to 31 March. Roughly the same number of prosecution cases were taken under specific pesticides legislation as in the previous year. The main source of complaints in recent years has been agricultural crop spraying.

The Control of Pesticides (Amendment) Regulations, make it clear that pesticide application must be restricted to its target area.

AS of January, Jim Orson, currently head of cereals for ADAS, will become director of Morley Research Centre.

BRITISH Sugar has launched a grower helpline, manned by Kirsty Purt. Growers may still resolve queries with their usual factory contacts and area managers, but the helpline provides a one-stop contact point for operational, contract, payment and other day- to-day issues.

The helpline is open Mon-Fri, 9am to 5pm on 01733 422567.

EC measures to control potato brown rot, first introduced in 1995 following outbreaks in the Netherlands, are to be extended for another year. They require that the Dutch prevent the export of any seed potatoes from infected farms, and that all consignments of seed potatoes are tested before export.

There are also safeguards on potatoes for processing and supplies for retail sale.

GERMANYS Green party has relaxed its blanket opposition to genetic engineering, reports European Chemical News.

But while it acknowledges the usefulness of the techniques in producing drugs to treat life-threatening diseases, its maintaining a rigid stance against genetics in agriculture.

REEKIE Manufacturing joins other potato mechanisation specialists such as Miedema and Hassia under the Netagco Holdings umbrella. Within this strategic alliance, Reekie can continue on an independent operational basis while taking advantage of the overall product line within the group, it says.

FLAX contractors have agreed to a new protocol to ensure that environmentally sensitive land isnt used to grow flax. They have agreed not to accept contracts or claim aid on SSSIs, unimproved (semi-natural) habitats and other unsuitable land types.

Copies of the protocol are available from Robin Appel on 01489 896388.

ASSOCIATED British Foods, through its British Sugar Overseas subsidiary, is to acquire controlling interests in two sugar factories, one processing Chinese sugar cane, the other Polish sugar beet. Both acquisitions are subject to local regulatory approval.

Meanwhile the Financial Times reports that world sugar production is forecast to reach near-record levels in 1997-98. Strong performances from the EU and Brazil will more than compensate for decreased production in eastern Europe, Thailand, India and Cuba.

THIS month sees the first BPC inward mission. The party of Italian retailers, merchants and journalists will have the chance to meet British potato exporters to discuss business opportunities. Italy is one of Europes biggest importers of ware potatoes, and prices there are high this year.

DAVID Ringrose, chairman of the Maltsters Association of Great Britain, predicts that many UK maltsters, especially those exporting malt, are likely to change the pattern of barley purchasing. Barley will be purchased more in relation to current mill sales, moving away from the traditional practice of securing most of their annual requirement at harvest time, he says.

BANKS Agriculture declares avid support of the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme and, in conjunction with the NFU and the scheme administrators, is holding a series of grower meetings this month. Contact Jane Leitch for details of East Anglia venues on 01638 667662 or Emma Arling for East Midlands venues on 01572 824264.

HORMONES used in HRT therapy for women could soon be sourced from genetically-altered oilseed crops, according to Canadas National Research Council. Urine from pregnant mares is the current source.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

Despite a wet harvest, milling wheats came up trumps at our trial site near Corby. Gilly Johnson reports.

FEED wheat, move over. Northants grower Ray Dalton – former diehard feed wheat champion – has had a change of heart.

For the first time "since we grew Avalon back in the 1970s", Mr Dalton is going back into milling varieties. This year "added value" wheats are taking a large proportion – 40% – of the 442ha (1,092 acres) cereal area at Rockingham Castle Farms, near Corby.

Mr Daltons conversion is due to his first hand experience of the Milling Wheat Challenge. After persuasion by seed merchant Tim Hirst of BDR Agriculture, Mr Dalton drilled three new milling varieties as a look-see alongside the farms core feed wheat, Brigadier.

Also involved with the Challenge are three millers; Peter Knight, of Smiths Flour Mills, Nick Riley of Allied Mills and Peter Jones of Rank Hovis. They are monitoring the performance of the three new bread wheats Abbot, Malacca, and Caxton respectively.

Covering 11ha (27 acres), the trial site was big enough to allow field-scale plots for each wheat. The results are shown in the panel.

ONE variety – Malacca – convincingly outyielded the Brigadier, giving 10.85t/ha (4.4t/acre) as compared with 10.48t/ha (4.2t/acre).

"On yields alone, Malacca has certainly delivered the goods," says Mr Dalton. "It looked good throughout, with short, stiff straw, and stood well."

He suspects that some of the credit must go to the new strobilurin azoxystrobin (Amistar) which was part of the disease control programme. "It certainly kept the site greener." But had maturity been delayed as a result? "Possibly, but the site ripened off rapidly," he remembers. "It stayed green until the last minute, and then the next day, the crop had turned."

NONE of the milling varieties achieved a standard breadmaking specification of 11.5% protein, 76 kg/hl specific weight and 250 hagberg. But given the difficult season, they put in a good result, reckons Mr Dalton.

In the past his problem has been producing grain with high protein. So he was delighted to break this barrier for the first time. Whether it was the late liquid nitrogen (23kg N/ha at very late cheesy-ripe stage, GS 85) or a quirk of the season, proteins are high, over 12%, for all the milling wheats.

"Nationally proteins are up by about 0.2 to 0.3%", says Peter Knight, of Smiths Flour Mills. "But that isnt the full explanation for Rays success with proteins this season. Its that hes got the agronomy right."

Mr Knight is pleased that protein quality is generally "pretty good". It hasnt suffered from the season – which has surprised the millers.

However specific weights are down dramatically, in common with much of the 1997 harvest. None of the four varieties could meet a 72kg/hl specification; Caxton and Brigadier fare worst at 68kg/hl. Mr Dalton puts this down to the cold June.

It was a disappointment, he admits, because the wheats looked so well just before harvest. Such low specific weights are a problem to millers, explains Mr Knight, because they reduce flour extraction rate.

Hagberg falling number is another stumbling block. None of the wheats come anywhere near to the 220 to 250 standard required. This can be explained by the wet weather at combining, says Mr Dalton.

"We took the combine through a neighbours field of Hereward before ours, and the hagbergs were fine." Then the rain came and grain quality plummeted. By the time Mr Dalton was given another weather window, hagbergs had sunk to 150 and below.

"Such low hagbergs are hopeless as far as millers are concerned," says Mr Knight. "They would be useless for loaves suited to automatic slicing, because the crumb is too sticky."

WITH a nominal £20/t milling premium included in gross margin calculations, Malacca wins the race, with Caxton second, Abbot third, and Brigadier fourth. The figures are given in the panel.

But because the Milling Challenge samples failed to meet milling standards, its only reasonable to have a look at returns without premium support. Surprisingly, Malacca still leads the field at £900/ha (£364/acre) beating Brigadier by £30/ha (£12/acre) – because of its high yield performance.

"At this level of yield, Malacca pays its way even without premiums," says Mr Dalton. This year his wheats are split between feed wheats Brigadier, Reaper and Equinox, with some trial areas of Madrigal, Savannah and Falstaff, and milling wheats Malacca, Rialto, Charger and a trial area of Samoa.

Having done the Milling Wheat Challenge, he is more confident about hitting the protein target next harvest. "We are greatly encouraged. Then if we do make a premium on top, it goes straight onto our bottom line profits. If we had made the quality this year, the milling gross margins would have been way ahead of the feed wheats."

But will milling premiums – currently riding high at £25 to £30/t – be maintained for next harvest? The supply of milling wheats is set to rise – seed trade estimates are that the area down to Group 1 and 2 wheats has risen by 7% this year. Mr Knight is loathe to make predictions on prices, and reckons that premiums may not be the driving issue in future anyway.

"Remember, if the yields of these new varieties are maintained, growers will see good returns on the basis of output alone…"

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8 November 1997

Be warned: a poor quality European harvest spells bad news for grain prices here. Gilly Johnson finds out why.

BRITISH growers werent the only ones to suffer a poor harvest. Its been a tough season elsewhere in Europe too.

The EUs output of coarse grains – which includes sorghum, rye, maize and triticale – is down 1% to just over 200m tonnes, despite an increased area planted, according to figures from COCERAL, the European agricultural trade body.

Bad weather is blamed. A wet wheat harvest and the cold June upset cereal production in France, just as it did in the UK. Its not just a yield problem; quality is also badly affected – though the true extent of the damage is unclear. Trade rumours that 44% of French wheat would not meet intervention quality criteria are being hotly denied by the French authorities.

Despite the denials, specific weights do appear to be well down in northern France. In normal conditions French wheat would easily pass the 76kg/hl export standard; thats not the case this harvest. And in the south, hagbergs have been hit by a wet summer. Many samples are coming in at 150 hagberg and below, including mainstream French milling wheats such as Sideral and Recital.

France is Europes largest wheat producer and exporter, growing over a third of the Communitys total tonnage. If much of this wheat is not up to milling or intervention specifications, then it must be downgraded to feed – and it will then compete with UK wheat for price-sensitive export outlets.

Its bad news for UK exporters. "Were worried," says Mark Hughes, export director with Allied Grain. "The lower quality French wheat will be in direct competition with us for customers in Europe."

France, along with the rest of Europe, also has a huge maize harvest, thanks to the same wet summer which damaged wheat quality. A large supply of cheap maize is going to put further pressure on European feed wheat prices, as it can replace feed grain for importing nations such as Spain.

UK export efforts are also hampered by the strength of sterling which continues to give foreign grain the competitive benefit of a lower price. So taking all these factors into account, its not surprising that UK wheat exports have got off to a bad start.

"October has been very difficult for exports," says Mr Hughes. "This time last year we had shipped 1.5m tonnes – but to the end of October the current total looks like being nearer 850,000t."

To make matters worse, new players have made a surprise appearance on the export scene. Romania and Hungary have exported cheap wheat to Mediterranean countries, and Turkey is likely to supply Saudi Arabia with barley.

The loss of some of the Saudi market is a major blow to short term export hopes. Last season Saudi bought 450,000t of UK barley. "This season we will be seeing European barley having to go into intervention in November," predicts Mr Hughes.

So far Allied Grain wheat exports, mainly through the port of Tilbury, have been maintained through aggressive marketing. Allied Grain predicts that Spain will be the largest buyer of UK wheat this year taking a minimum of 0.8m tonnes. Specific weight specifications will range from 68-76kg/hl, suggests Mr Hughes.

UK premium

"Spanish buyers wont pay any premium for UK wheat unless they absolutely have to. By far the vast majority of exports are done on the basis of a standard export spec – kiloweight and price are what matters."

Problems with the poor quality of the first UK wheat shipments to Italy this season has led buyers to switch to grain from Scandinavia and Hungary instead. Last year Italy bought about 520,000t – prospects this season are uncertain.

For wheat, the UKs exportable surplus this year is about 1m tonne lower than last season. For barley, its higher, at about 2.4m tonnes.

"It is a problem to see where our grain will end up this year," says Mr Hughes. "For barley, there is always intervention. This isnt an option for our wheat."

A lack of buyers is one difficulty. A shortage of sellers is the other. Growers are holding off from selling grain in the hope that the market will rally. This has created an artificially high domestic market, says Mr Hughes. Which has meant UK grain has not been competitive on volume export markets. So foreign grain has filled the early orders instead.

Traders are often accused of talking the market down. But Mr Hughes denies being overly bearish. "Prospects really are gloomy," he says. "Last year third country buyers saved the day – we had the quality needed, and the UK was price competitive. Thats not the case now – were just too expensive with sterling at current levels."

"The best hope for those growers with wheat in store is that sterling weakens – otherwise grain prices will have to fall to give our exports the required boost."

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8 November 1997

Rounding off our 1997 series of profiles of innovative beet growers, Tia Rund visits Lincs-based Burtts of Dowsby.

Michael Burtt rubbed his eyes and looked through his growers return once more. Hed known that the beet crop hadnt been the best but, still, it was sobering to see his fears confirmed in black and white. Yields were well short of C quota. Not only were the returns going to suffer, but he was in real danger of losing tonnage if he couldnt steer things back on course.

This was three years ago, but light years away from todays beet performance. He made the decision there and then to turn the crop around and within a single season hed done just that.

But he didnt manage it alone. In a milestone meeting to pick over the bones of the 1994 results, the combined forces of British Sugars area manager David Smith, ADAS senior agronomist Andrew Wells, David Frobisher of Agrochem South and farm manager Peter Maplethorpe were drafted in.

By the time the meeting was over, the team of troubleshooters had established a beet-growing blueprint.

It sounds simple in theory, but some of the changes were quite radical, striking right to the core of the farms philosophy. Cultivations, for instance. First, a Claydon furrow cracker was added to the autumn ploughing operation.

Second, where as many as three passes with a power harrow and/or Dutch harrow used to be the spring routine, nowadays a Kongskilde Germinator reduces seedbed preparation to a single operation.

Combined with the use of flotation tyres, the net benefit has been a more level and less compacted surface at drilling time. Mr Burtt is quick to credit his farm manager, Peter Maplethorpe, for these initiatives.

Nitrogen is applied, text book fashion, at 40kg/ha at drilling and 80kg/ha on emergence.

Liquid fertiliser was trialled on one field last year with satisfactory results. There is some concern about scorching with the later application but hopefully Mr Burtt will be able to extend the use of liquid fertiliser making the spreader completely redundant.

Virus yellows contributed to the depressed yields in 1994. Gaucho-treated seed was trialled in 1995 and used wholesale since then.

Bolters are knocked out by hand, with a Carier Rollmaster brought in to use if the infestation is bad. Tractor hoeing is routine across the entire beet area, at least once and sometimes twice during the course of the herbicide programme. "You dont see the immediate benefits of control, but weed beet can be a real timebomb," says Mr Burtt.

But the biggest influence on the recovery of performance must be irrigation. A couple of boreholes at Manor Farm and a winter storage reservoir at Brant House, together with a ring mains on each farm, means the entire area can be accessed by the Wright Rain hosereels.

The investment in irrigation equipment had originally been made to support the Burtts onion enterprise. But the high stone content on the river gravel soils caused an increasing number of problems with the handling equipment. The decision to move out of onions happily coincided with the sugar beet reformation and meant that irrigation could be directed exclusively to beet, as the sole remaining root crop.

Dry summers had always exposed huge unirrigated yield variations between beet on light and medium lands, so Mr Burtt knew that plenty of scope existed for improvement. But in the past there had only ever been occasional irrigation to remedy the worst effects of drought usually, admits Mr Burtt, as a fire engine treatment.

Now the policy is to select beet on the lightest 80ha (200 acres) for intensive irrigation in any one year. If irrigation was extended to take in any more of the total 180ha (450 acres) it would be difficult to work around the area within the target 10 day cycle, he believes.

The approach seems to be paying off. Yields on the lightest soils were 33 to50% higher in 1995 and 1996 than in 1994.

But, nature being fickle, this year the irrigators have been idle. The trigger points come around June and September and, on each occasion, rain came just in time to save the need for watering.

Scheduling is based on British Sugars (BS) weekly bulletin service which, for an annual fee of £30, provides regional weather forecasts and a monitor of soil moisture deficits at three sites in the Newark factory area, which happens to include one of Mr Burtts fields.

He feels that, with this information, he can strike the right balance between theory and practicality. "This is quite scientific enough. There are so many factors beyond your control, such as wind. If you adopt a slide rule mentality, you could easily get left behind."

Mr Burtt has also found that irrigation knocks on to easier storage. "Bigger beet give better air flow through the clamp," he notes.

Since 1994 he has increased the total of clamps, all field-located, to eight, each not too square and not overlarge, with a concrete base and either big bale or timber sides. "Theres no one big mass of beet thats difficult to manage."

The contractor who does most of the harvesting uses high-tip dump trailers to load beet into the clamps. This saves additional handling with a fore-end loader, reducing damage and the risk of restricting ventilation by compacting the beet. His Vervaet tanker harvester also does a good job of presenting the beet in a relatively clean state, grants Mr Burtt.

BS clamp sheets are used and temperature in the clamp is monitored on an occasional basis. "The probe doesnt give a definitive measurement," comments Mr Burtt, "but it can alert us when theres a problem brewing".

Harvesting and storage are closely co-ordinated with deliveries, which is no easy task given that the two farms are 30 miles apart, but both managed by Mr Maplethorpe from Manor Farm.

Despite the apparent success of Mr Burtts team in boosting the profile of the beet crop, its work doesnt stop. "Our success lies in the cross-pollination of ideas. Theres no magic wand or miracle cure. Since that initial historic meeting weve all kept in touch, and David Smith from BS always reviews each season with us."

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8 November 1997

BEST known for its sulfonylurea herbicides, the big US agrochemical manufacturer Du Pont plans a new mix of conventional and biotechnology products for the next century.

The move into genetically-modified crop plants will catapult Du Pont from a $30bn market into a $500bn opportunity in which farms will become supplying factories, according to Bill Kirk, company vice president and general manager for agricultural products.

In conventional agrochemicals, Du Pont has a new product pipeline stretching in the short term to 2004. It plans to split its product portfolio more evenly between herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. The first of the new products, Lexus Class herbicide, is already on UK sale but will be followed in a couple of years in Britain by a fungicide, famoxate, from a new Spanish factory.

A further two cereal fungicides, two herbicides for maize and cereals, and a vegetable insecticide will follow after 2000. The present run of new materials will culminate with a cotton and vegetable insecticide based on genetic modification.

Biotechnology will play a key role in Du Ponts future expansion but Mr Kirk says the company is taking an added value route through a 20% stake in Pioneer Seeds which will lead to crops engineered for higher quality output of desirable oils and protein. Beyond those, he anticipates genetically-engineered crops being grown for fibre and pharmaceutical production.

This approach avoids the essentially single product route chosen by Monsanto which is engineering crops resistant to Roundup. Mr Kirk also puts Du Pont at odds with Monsanto in claiming that negotiations are already under way with major grain traders to ensure Du Ponts GM crops will be separated out in the storage and shipping process to enhance their value.

This identity preservation will be essential to ensuring farmers, who will grow the new crops strictly under contract, get a premium return. For maize in the USA, Mr Kirk estimates this premium over conventionally-grown maize to be worth $75/ha to the grower.

KNIGHT Farm Machinery, of South Luffenham, Rutland, has become the first UK sprayer manufacturer approved by the Agricultural Engineers Association to carry out MoT-type tests on crop sprayers. The AEA is setting up a network of official test centres authorised to check out sprayers either on farm or at one of the centres.

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8 November 1997

Youve chosen the best product for the job in hand and picked the right day to spray. But are your nozzles up to it, asks Sarah Henly?

TRUTH or myth? Venturi nozzles improve the performance of all agrochemicals? Fitting venturi nozzles is the same as using the Airtec twin fluid system? Airtec and Degania are directly comparable?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, youd better read on. To get the best from a herbicide, fungicide or insecticide, you need to know precisely which type of nozzle to use, as well as when and what to spray.

By selecting the right nozzles, you could find theres scope to improve the efficacy of sprays, increase the number of spray days, and possibly reduce application rates, says Nigel Western, applications specialist at IACR-Long Ashton near Bristol.

First consider your target. The type of nozzle you need for a pre-emergence residual herbicide application will be very different from what you would choose for a fungicide spray. You may need to keep a whole selection, he suggests.

"Soil-applied herbicides are typically applied using coarser droplets than foliar-applied sprays since target coverage is not as critical. Venturi nozzles for example would suit the first use, but because the coarse droplets are retained poorly on very upright leaves, not the second use.

"Conventional hydraulic nozzles would do for both provided suitable flow rates were selected, but they wouldnt offer the operator as many chances to spray because drift would be of greater concern," he explains.

Drift is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to successful spraying. Using a low drift nozzle or spraying system can bring more spraying opportunities, but is practical only if suited to the particular task in hand, warns Mr Western.

While twin fluid systems such as the Airtec can be effective against any target, venturi nozzles for example are less suited to early post-emergence herbicide applications where a fine spectra is desirable.

This months Brighton conference sees the launch of a new BCPC classification rating nozzles according to potential drift hazard, which should help in selection. That complements the current BCPC nozzle selection scheme which classifies nozzles and sprays into fine, medium or coarse.

As a general rule, most applications can be made using a medium quality spray in 150 to 250 litres/ha of water.

Some post-emergence contact herbicides, insecticides and fungicides work more effectively when droplet size is small, since retention on the leaves is usually greater.

Some guidance is given on product labels. But its worth studying the advantages of each of the different types of nozzles before buying.

As a guide, conventional flat fan nozzles are the simplest and cheapest to use, which is probably why they account for 70% of the usage figures. They come in a range of angles from 65-110í and produce an overlap, so the target is sure to receive the correct dose of spray.

Droplet size is determined by outlet size and pressure, so can be chosen specifically for the target in mind. The smaller orifices are prone to block when low application volumes are used, warns Mr Western.

However he would probably spend his money on flat fans, unless he had a large farm where low volumes were essential and drift potential was high.

"If I farmed a large area where high winds were often a problem, Id probably choose an Airtec system. It is the only thing that has shown consistent advantages over conventional nozzles. Twin fluid nozzles can be adjusted to suit a variety of targets," he says.

It is claimed that using air to atomise the liquid flow adds further energy to the spray, giving some direction and velocity to the smaller droplets.

Improved penetration and foliage retention is reportedly achieved because some of the air enters the larger droplets and slows down their movement.

The Airtecs flow rate is determined by the ratio of air to water within each nozzle, and droplet size can be changed on the move. That has numerous advantages – the operator can assess the drift risk and increase droplet size when approaching, for example, a stream or houses, explains Mr Western. The application rate or volume can be altered easily.

The downside is cost and complexity. Booms must be modified to take the air compressor and large nozzles. Retrofitting to existing sprayers could cost about £7,000 for a 24m boom plus labour charges.

Where growers want a low drift system without all the caboodle, there are two other main options. Venturi nozzles offer some air entrainment effect without the need for a separate air supply.

The Billericay Bubblejet, for example, is a pre-orifice low drift nozzle which is claimed to give better foliage retention than other coarse nozzles.

The disadvantage is that the droplet size is not ideal for very upright leaves. And because the nozzle draws air in through tiny holes in its sides, blockages could be a risk and spotting them would be difficult, believes Mr Western.

The second option – and the newest nozzle on the market – is the anvil-based Turbo TeeJet from Spraying Systems.

It is a modification of the original anvil type but produces a coarser droplet at lower application volumes and can overlap.

"The Turbo TeeJet rather cleverly allows spray operators to maintain coverage with low application volumes without significantly increasing drift. It is particularly useful for applying soil-acting agrochemicals," says Mr Western.

To get the best out of any agrochemical, growers must weigh up the pros and cons of each type and be prepared to change nozzles as often as they change targets, he concludes.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

With planting woodland on set-aside now permitted, Gilly Johnson asks how trees suit the arable rotation.

ACCORDING to some woodland enthusiasts, tree planting can be more profitable than cereal cropping, even on good land.

Commendable zeal – but in practice this is stretching the truth somewhat. Anyone planting new woodland with the hope of making quick money from the enterprise is likely to be disappointed, suggests Tim Russell, ADAS conservation consultant based in Cambridgeshire.

The real case for trees isnt that they provide a route to extra profits – but rather that they wont be a financial burden on the arable business.

That said, the arguments for tree planting have been boosted by changes to the set-aside rules. Its now permissible to plant new woodland on IACS land, and count it towards the farms set-aside requirement.

The grower then receives payments at £300/ha, or at the prevailing set-aside rate, if this is lower. And if the set-aside rate drops to zero at some future point, then the woodland grants will be triggered instead.

"This new flexibility together with the rise in payments has lead to many more enquiries about woodland," says Mr Russell.

For more on the mechanics of the notoriously-complicated grant schemes, see the panel. But how might new woodland fit in on an arable farm?

Heres one example. Growing a range of high value vegetable crops at Whitehall Farm, Isleham, near Ely in the Fens, Clem Tompsett regrets the lack of trees in the flat East Anglian landscape. He planted one 1.6ha (4 acres) block 25 years ago, and now gains much pleasure from this area of broad-leaved woodland.

"I would like to leave more trees for the next generation," he says. Mr Tompsett built two reservoirs of a total capacity of 272m litres (60m gallons) to service the potatoes, leeks and carrots on his 397ha (980 acres). That left him with a large heap of topsoil.

He has used it to create a 3ha (8 acres) sloping woodland area adjoining one reservoir. Mr Russell recommended a mix of mainly broad-leaved species including native trees such as oak, ash, crab apple, maple, alder and cherry. Some woody shrubs and a few conifers are also included.

"Harvesting timber is not the main objective here – we are looking for amenity and environmental enhancements."

The trees were set in January and February. Normally, Mr Russell would recommend November planting, but the autumn was too dry last year. The saplings came through the dry spring well with the help of irrigation. This boosted establishment, giving a high survival rate of over 95%.

"We thought the late frost might take some out, but giving the plants a good soaking seemed to help," remembers Mr Tompsett.

There is a downside – weed growth. Using a hand-held sprayer, it would generally only take one or two trips per season around the new woodland to clear weeds from the protected tree bases with a glyphosate-type product. But Mr Tompsett has had to go in more often, and reckons another treatment might yet be needed.

"On fertile sites, weed control is critical," says Mr Russell. "Grass weeds in particular can compete with the young saplings for moisture."

Within three to five years weed control should no longer be necessary, because the trees should be large enough to smother them.

Another woodland area has been created on more sandy, lower-lying land. When completed this will add another 3ha (7 acres). Being a drier site, the species mix is slightly different, including holly, rowan and Scots pine.

"Within reason, there is scope to put in whatever trees you might like within the grant scheme," says Mr Russell. "But they should suit the site and your objectives."

Contractors were called in to do the planting. There are rules which govern individual spacing and stocking rates within the grant schemes (see panel), but the authorities are keen to encourage the inclusion of glades and wider pathways because it will help diversify the woodland habitat.

Mr Russell and Mr Tompsett have done just this. As long as the planting rates are still within requirements, then the grouping of trees is discretionary. Up to 20% of the area can be open ground.

Will the new woodland cost Mr Tompsett money? On balance, he believes it wont, and that is without including any potential return from harvested timber, or the appreciation to the capital and sporting land value. "Though it must be said that we wouldnt be growing vegetables on the land – it would not be productive enough."

The combined planting grants are enough to cover the cost of planting by a contractor – but no more, says Mr Russell.

"Its about £1.60 to £1.80/tree for the plastic shelter, the plant, stake, and the planting operation. So at a stocking rate of 1,100 trees/ha, what you receive with the two establishment grants just about balances the cost – but you should remember that a proportion is kept back until five years later."

But annual payments should also be considered. Part of Mr Tompsetts woodland area is counting towards his set-aside requirement, and will receive £300/ha (£121/acre) Farm Woodland Premium Scheme payments (see panel) for the next 15 years. There is a maintenance requirement attached to these payments. This involves keeping the stocking rate up to the required level.

Mr Tompsett values the environmental enhancement that woods offer. "Woodland improves my enjoyment of the land, and that matters to me." Last but not least is the positive feedback from the general public and his supermarket customers. "It all helps our business image!"

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8 November 1997

New legislation is cutting packaging waste in half, reports Gilly Johnson.

COUNT the number of black household rubbish bags that you put out for collection each week. Three? Four? Five? The odds are that this figure will have doubled – if not more – over the past 10 years.

Now consider the waste packaging generated by the farm business. In the same time scale, the volume of waste has shrunk dramatically; by about 50%. And containers which are a headache to dispose of – such as aluminium cans, glass bottles, and tins – have vanished.

The supply trade deserve the credit. But theres more to come. By 2001, there will be even less pack waste to deal with. If new European legislation achieves its target, expect to see todays heap of empty packs cut by half again.

Pesticide manufacturers and distributors are now seeking ways of satisfying the new rules. On farm, it will mean fewer packs requiring disposal, recycling, and the introduction of returnable schemes.

At the same time, other new legislation will encourage the more effective disposal of the packs that remain. This will help satisfy both environmental concerns and issues of health and safety.

Ross Dyer of the British Agrochemical Association has the job of explaining the legislation to the industry. Its been a tough task, he admits – because of the "incredible complexity" of the new laws, which came into effect in March this year.

In simple terms, the requirement for a 50% reduction in pack waste has been shared out amongst the agrochemical supply chain. Manufacturers have been given the lions share, but distributors must also contribute. However, growers dont have to do anything – they only benefit.

Monitoring the companys efforts is the tricky part, but the UK government has found a clever, but complicated answer. Any company that cant make its direct contribution to a reduction in packaging – for whatever reason has to sign up instead to a compliance scheme.

This body undertakes to contract out waste recovery and recycling on behalf of its members, and then certify to the government that legislation is being satisfied.

Heres how it works: If a company issues products in 10t of plastic containers, then it automatically has a requirement to recover and recycle 5t of plastic packs. But this recovered plastic doesnt necessarily have to be its own packaging. Via a compliance scheme, it can pay someone else to recover other plastic waste instead. All that is needed is a certificate to show that 5t of plastic recovery and recycling has been done.

So in effect the compliance scheme creates a brokerage system for waste recycling and recovery. By March 1997, many agrochemical manufacturers had signed up to Valpack, the largest such compliance scheme.

The good news for growers is that this extra cost is unlikely to be passed on via higher product prices. "In terms of cost per hectare, growers will not feel any pain," predicts Mr Dyer.

On farm, some changes are already evident as a result of the legislation. Its not just the fact that more products are arriving in water-soluble bags, or as highly active compounds in tiny containers.

Now undergoing practical testing are schemes involving re-fillable containers. Two notable initiatives are the returnable kegs being developed by Cyanamid and AgrEvo (Ecomatic and Echo System respectively) and Novartis LinkPak re-fillable container.

Other initiatives have been looked at, including petrol-pump style agrochemical dispensers at major depots, and recovery of waste plastic from farms. Mr Dyer remains unconvinced of the benefits of waste plastic recovery, due to the logistical problems of collecting from isolated rural areas.

"When you add up all the energy expended in collecting waste packs, environmentally its probably better to dispose of waste on farm," he suggests.

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8 November 1997

&#8226 The Spra Coupe 3440 is beefed up, into a 1,000 acre/day machine, says Chavtrac. A British built Perkins 1,000 series diesel engine increases power from 87 to 110hp. The Spra Coupe 3440 can also be fitted with the Energized Spraying Process (ESP) which uses contact charging to deliver an electric charge to spray liquid. The high-intensity electrostatic field created between nozzle and crop is said to attract droplets into the canopy and improve deposition patterns.

&#8226 Chavtrac is also responsible for a software system linking the Raven injection system with site specific data from soil testing, weed monitoring and yield mapping. With a GPS receiver fitted on the sprayer, pre-programmed variable application of up to five different chemicals is possible.

&#8226 A MAFF LINK-funded project to evaluate use of yield mapping technology to target fertiliser inputs in combinable crops enters its second phase. The effects of variable rate and uniform nitrogen applications on wheat yield and grain quality are being compared by Philip Chamberlain of Crowmarsh Battle Farms in Oxfordshire and John Fenton of Yokefleet Farms in Humberside.

&#8226 On the move crop scanning linked to variable rate nitrogen applications is Hydro Agris aim. Its tractor-mounted prototype scans to a width of 10m, assessing cereals by colour, and modifies spreader settings accordingly.

&#8226 A voluntary national sprayer test scheme is introduced by the AEA, endorsed by MAFF, HSE, BCPC, BAA and the NFU. The scheme provides a standardised test and a national register of machines performing to standard.

&#8226 Lincoln based Gem Sprayers is bought by Case, one of 11 acquisitions made since January 1996 in the companys drive to become a full line supplier. An integrated product line becomes increasingly important as Case expands its Advanced Farming Systems line of components for site-specific farming.

&#8226 Hydro Chafer embarks on its first year as sole supplier in the UK for the Matrot range of sprayers, with their distinctive front-mounted aluminium booms up to 44m. The Matrot Chafer M44D 140 is the first machine to be pushed.

&#8226 Benest adds air to its dropleg sprayer in the form of the Ventura system, which is based on volume rather than pressure. Its gear type blower produces a maximum of 1.25 bar. A single hydraulic pump feeds motors on both the compressor and the centrifugal water pump. Air and liquid meet at the end of the dropleg in the Ventura system nozzle. In field vegetable and fruit production in particular, says the company, there are strong implications for reducing pesticide use.

&#8226 Silsoe Research Institutes patch sprayer receives a boost from collaboration with Micron Sprayers, a UK-based company better known for its export activities, but, as pioneer of Controlled Droplet Application, one with a track record of innovation.

&#8226 As independent assessors for the SP (spread pattern) rating scheme for fertiliser, SRI also announces improvements to its testing facility.

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

Fasten your seat belts. New research shows going fast is best, reports Debbie Beaton.

MANUFACTURERS have been very successful in producing sprayers that can go faster and faster. For trailed sprayers the Fastrac, among others, has shifted the operation up a gear.

Similarly, the main self-propelled sprayers have chassis suspension enabling them to operate at higher speeds.

But do agrochemicals work as well when operators apply them at 20 to 30km/hr as opposed to 12km/hr? Does speed alter the droplet spectrum, droplet size, biological efficacy of the treatment or all three? Its a subject the industry is just beginning to explore and Chavtrac is one of the first .

On behalf of the company, Morley Research Centre has conducted trials with the Spra Coupe. Chavtracs Richard Price takes up the story: "Basically, the research shows that spray coverage on crops is as good, if not better, when the sprayer is travelling up to 32km/hr."

The experiment compared a range of spray volumes from 55 litres/ha to 210 litres/ha using different forward speeds with the Spra Coupe. The results were not taken to yield because disease failed to develop.

However, the fungicide deposits applied with XR 04 nozzles at different volumes and speed were compared on Riband wheat.

The speed of 32km/hr applied at the lowest volume of 55 litres/ha gave the greatest spray deposits on horizontal pipe cleaners placed in the crop. At 8km/hr there was a coverage of 600 microlitres/section of pipe cleaner compared with 1,300 when applied at 32km/hr.

The reason, concluded the researchers, could be a change in angle of spray penetration, droplet size or turbulence. They even went so far to suggest that there may be no fall off and possibly an increase in activity from fungicides applied at higher speeds. But there is no evidence yet to suggest this is the case.

Mr Price offers a scientific explanation for the results. "When the sprayer travels at a slower speed the agrochemical droplets are likely to fall close to the vertical – heading straight for the ground.

"However, at faster speeds of 20 to 30km/hr the spray droplets end up on a glide path of about 18 to 45í. So instead of the droplets passing, and impacting, on just two or three plants, they are likely to be intercepted by 10 or more plants. So there is a much greater chance of the spray being intercepted."

Clearly this has implications for cutting dose rates. "It is not company policy to suggest rate cutting. But there is no doubt that the sort of increases in deposition seen in these trials would allow growers to reduce chemical."

Higher spraying speeds allow operators to cover 245 to 325ha/day (600-800 acres/day), which is three times conventional practice. So there is the potential to apply more timely treatments, rather than rely on the less frequent application of more persistent products, points out Mr Price.

As an ex-aerial operator, Duncan Jack has a natural leaning towards speed. But then the experience has also equipped him with a greater understanding of the way droplet size, water volumes and pressure interact.

For the past three years spraying at Brakelands Farm, Swalcliffe in Oxfordshire, has been on the fast side – 18 to 20km/hr. "I have always noticed a better coverage on the leaf by spraying faster. But success rests on using the right jets and the right pressure," says Mr Jack.

He points out that spraying at 200 litres of water, at 20km/hr, could do more harm than good because the concentration of active ingredient per droplet would be diluted.

Water rates of 80 litres/ha for fungicides are typical on his 520ha (1,300 acres) arable farm where cropping comprises winter wheat, winter oats, winter barley, oilseed rape, linseed and grass seed.

"We push water rates up to 100 litres/ha where we have to travel more slowly," he adds. "But theres no doubt that there is less coverage."

But as you go faster, the pressure increases and produces smaller droplets so you have to be careful to avoid drift, points out Mr Jack.

"Watch for vortices. Try going fast with a conventional square tractor and you are likely to miss a lot of the crop behind the machine. An airstreamed shape and stable boom are crucial for faster spraying."

Conversely, Mr Jack believes that slowing down the sprayer produces bigger droplets, which could affect target coverage and spray efficacy.

But is faster spraying confined to bigger fields? "Our field size ranges from 4 to 80 acres, so it isnt really a limiting factor," replies Mr Jack. "We achieve 50 acres/hour with a bowser andsomeone else mixing"

But understanding how chemicals work is crucial, he says. Reglone is one example. "We use it with 140 litres/ha of water. But it must be applied at night or in dull conditions because the product in my view is light sensitive. Knowing this helps us make low water rates, and higher speeds, work."

The next stage in speedier spraying? "We need to have the ability to have a constant pressure of water and vary the amount of chemical according to speed. Direct injection systems are very nearly there."

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

Encouraging parasitic wasps to attack aphids could be the key to new methods of control. Sarah Henly looks at the practicalities.

CATS love it and so do aphids, say researchers. Catmint, a summer flowering perennial, common in herbaceous borders, is so called because cats seem to love rolling in it. Whether or not its smell attracts them isnt known, but catmint contains a chemical produced as a sex pheromone by sexual phase female aphids.

These aphids release sex pheromones in the autumn, which attracts winged males, and mating produces overwintering eggs. The resulting aphids threaten many cereal and pea crops.

But why grow catmint when the sex pheromones occur naturally, and aphids are to be discouraged rather than encouraged?

Some years ago, scientists at IACR-Rothamsted and Imperial College noticed that several aphid parasites can locate their aphid host using sex pheromones. Catmint was identified as producing one of the compounds found in the pheromone.

Extracts from catmint were used to produce synthetic pheromones in the laboratory, and the end product is being used to manipulate the behaviour of parasitic wasps, explains Dr Wilf Powell, entomologist at IACR-Rothamsted.

He is co-ordinator of a three-year LINK project being funded by MAFF, the HGCA, the Processors and Growers Research Organisation and the Horticultural Development Council. The work attracted much interest because the sex pheromones are common to many aphid species, and could potentially offer control opportunities in numerous crops.

Parasitic wasp species such as Praon volucre and Aphidius rhopalosiphi are usually present wherever cereal aphids occur. However to control aphid numbers, they must be in the right place in sufficient numbers at the same time as the pest appears.

By enticing the predator using synthetic pheromone lures, Dr Powell and his team have been able to increase numbers of parasitised aphids on potted trap plants. Parasitisation involves the female wasp injecting an egg inside her host, which develops into a larva, killing the aphid as it grows. It spins a cocoon inside, and eventually emerges from the mummified aphid as an adult.

This sight is familiar to glasshouse growers. Mass rearing and release works well in some protected crops, where predatory insects are introduced before pest numbers accumulate.

Such a strategy could work in the field, but only if the chemical pheromone worked as an arrestant as well as an attractant, says Dr Powell. "We are not sure from how far away the synthetic pheromone will draw wasps in, but it appears to intercept them and keep them where we want them long enough to attack nearby aphids."

The thrust is to encourage natural populations of wasps. Further work is needed to discover the best catch crop, both to conserve naturally occurring individuals and to retain any pulled in by pheromone lures as overwintering reservoirs.

It could be that field margins with a diversity of semi-natural plants are sufficient, or buffer strips in set-aside next to the crop make good habitats.

"We need an overwintering reservoir of these predators because both the crop and the aphids disappear in the late summer as harvest ensues. They must be around in sufficient quantities at the time when both winter and spring crops come under threat. It may be necessary to develop different marginal strips for different crops and aphid species," he suggests.

More funding is needed for this and other follow-up trials to determine, for example, the best method of applying the pheromone, and the feasibility of growing catmint as a commercial crop. In the plot trials, capsules containing synthetic pheromones derived from catmint were positioned at intervals along the existing field margins. This may be a cheaper option than a spray if the concept were to take off, believes Dr Powell.

He has no reason to doubt it could work, based on current results. Although sexual reproduction and thus natural pheromone release only occurs in some aphid populations once a year, most aphids being non-sexual females, parasitic wasps are attracted by the pheromone lure at any time of the year. Levels of parasitisation of cereal aphids and pea aphids are encouraging in trials.

There may be opportunities to combine this approach with one of protecting the crop using pest repellents or antifeedants, suggests Dr Powell.

"A simple push-pull model is demonstrated in pea and bean weevil control, where a synthetic pheromone pulls the pest from the crop while an antifeedant made from neem oil reduces feeding damage by any not pulled away.

"The pheromone in this case is for monitoring purposes, while in our work it has a more critical role in control."

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Archive Article: 1997/11/08

8 November 1997

Three models make up Berthoud Sprayers Bertronics range of computerised sprayer control systems. The entry level model, the DP Control spray monitor, uses a flow meter and speed sensor to calculate application rate, total area sprayed, distance covered and total litres sprayed. With these measures it can also record for either 10 fields or 10 crops, along with other spraying details, such as nozzle used and chemical applied. The DP Tronic incorporates pressure and speed sensors to automatically control application rates. Pressure is measured within the boom line itself, accurate to 0.5%. At the top of the range, the Gestronic has additional capacity to store records for up to 99 fields, which can be downloaded to a printer in the cab or the office. An electronic tank level gauge can be programmed to switch off the filling side of the pump at a predetermined level. All three models are housed in a single in-cab box, and allow for manual override of preset rates.

Berthoud Sprayers, Mill Lane, Great Massingham, Norfolk PE32 2HT (01485 520626).

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8 November 1997

Spreading between 6 and 18m, the Centerliner SE mid-size range of twin disc broadcasters incorporate the same spreading principle as Lelys Centerliner Supabowl, with a revolving hopper bottom designed to provide a constant flow to the metering shutters. Each of the contra-rotating discs has four fixed stainless steel spoons which need no adjustment for spread width. Application rates are varied by moving a single pin within a quadrant. A headland tilt ram is incorporated as standard into the category II linkage. The three models, the SE1500, SE2000 (pictured) and the SE2500, with respective capacities 760, 1,025 and 1,300 litres, cost between £2,850 and £3,250.

Lely (UK), Station Road, St Neots, Huntingdon, Cambs PE19 1QH (01480 476971).

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